Normal melanocytes reside in the outer layer of the skin and produce a brown pigment called melanin, which is responsible for skin color. Melanoma occurs when melanocytes become cancerous, grow and invade other tissue. Anyone can get melanoma, but fair-skinned, sun-sensitive people are at a higher risk. Since ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a major culprit, people who tan poorly, or burn easily are at the greatest risk.In addition to excessive sun exposure through life, people with many moles are at an increased risk to develop melanoma. The average person has around 30 moles and most are without significance; however, people with more than 50 moles are at a greater risk. Melanoma also runs in families. If a relative such as a parent, aunt or uncle had melanoma, other blood relatives are at an increased risk for melanoma.
The following factors help to identify those at risk for melanoma: fair skin, a history of sunburns, more than 50 moles, atypical moles, and close relatives who have had melanoma.
The best treatment is early detection. A quick look from a dermatologist can confirm whether a lesion is suspicious for melanoma. If so, the next step is to perform a biopsy. Treatment for melanoma begins with the surgical removal of the melanoma and some normal-looking skin around the growth. Early melanoma limited to the outermost layer of the skin (the epidermis) is knows as melanoma in situ (in place), and simple surgical removal produces virtually a 100% cure rate. If left untreated, the melanoma grows deeper in the skin and is more likely to produce a life-threatening situation. Deeper melanomas are more likely to reach a blood vessel or lymphatic channel and spread. When a melanoma spreads, it goes to the lymph nodes first.
Since excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation is one contributing factor to melanoma, it makes common sense to use sun protection. Avoid sun exposure from 10:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m. when the sun is the strongest. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen, one that blocks both types of ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB), and reapply every two hours. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and tightly woven clothing that will block ultraviolet light. White cotton shirts only block 50% of the sun’s rays. Avoid indoor tanning (tanning beds).
Always consult a dermatologist to examine any type of suspicious moles, lesions on your skin, etc., or history of family who have had melanoma.