Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer because of its potential to spread quickly to other parts of the body. Typically resulting from overexposure to the sun (as well as tanning beds and sunlamps), and affecting those with fairer skin at a higher rate, it is one of the most common forms of cancer among young adults.
The two other major forms of skin cancer, basal-cell and squamous-cell carcinoma, are also strongly linked to sun exposure. Although people with higher levels of pigment in their skin are naturally more protected from the sun’s radiation, they are not immune to its potentially harmful effects. Melanoma is less commonly diagnosed than basal-cell and squamous-cell skin cancer, but can affect any part of the skin, including areas not typically exposed to the sun (like the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet).
Doctors strongly recommend wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and both UVA and UVB protection. In addition to sunscreen’s ability to help block out the sun’s ultraviolet rays, it helps to slow the skin’s aging process, including the prevention of wrinkle formation.
It may present itself as a new mole or within an existing mole itself. Although those with a greater number of pre-existing moles are at a higher risk of developing the disease, melanomas can appear anywhere on the body, even in those without any moles at all.
Moles showing symptoms of melanoma are variegated in color, shape, and size, and are often characterized by an irregular border and an overall asymmetrical shape.
It may appear in other kinds of skin abnormalities, such as discolorations or bruise-like irregularities. For instance, a dark streak under a fingernail or toenail may indicate early stage melanoma. Although extremely rare, ocular melanoma can also occur, with initial symptoms including blurriness and increased pressure behind one eye.
Areas not typically overexposed to the sun can also be affected, including the bottoms of the feet, nasal cavity, rectum, and genitals.
People over the age of 50 are also at a higher risk as sunscreen technology was not as advanced during their younger years. The risks associated with excessive tanning were not widely known among the general public prior to the 1970s. As a result, it may occur in older individuals from the latent effects of a genetic mutation in their melanocytes (the skin’s pigment-producing melanin).
While all forms of skin cancer are potentially life-threatening, melanoma represents the majority of skin cancer deaths. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that about 9,730 people in the U.S. will die of melanoma in 2017. Although basal-cell and squamous-cell carcinomas are more widely diagnosed, they have much higher rates of survival.
The chances of surviving melanoma are greatly increased the earlier it is detected. If it is detected prior to spreading to the lymph nodes (stage III melanoma), the five-year survival rate is estimated at 98%. As skin cancer exams are now being recommended on a yearly basis, melanoma is more frequently being caught while it’s still in the very treatable stage 0.
Although overexposure to ultraviolet radiation is strongly correlated with skin cancer, other factors are at play. For instance, someone with a close relative having been diagnosed with the disease has an increased 10-15% chance of also being diagnosed.
Featured Image: Depositphotos/© monkeybusiness