Melanoma Skin Cancer: Symptoms, Stages, Causes, Medicines & Treatments
Commonly asked question about melanoma skin cancer:
- What is melanoma skin cancer?
- Melanoma skin cancer risk factors
- Melanoma skin cancer causes
- Melanoma skin cancer symptoms
- Melanoma skin cancer treatments
- How to prevent cancer
- What drugs are used to treat melanoma skin cancer?
What Is Melanoma Skin Cancer?
Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, develops in the melanin producing cells and if left untreated can spread to the eyes and on rare occasions, internal organs.
While medical research has yet to determine the exact cause of melanoma, medical studies suggest that prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation – regardless of the source – may cause the cancer to develop. It is believed that this occurs as melanoma cancerous growths develop when skin cells experience irreparable skin damage that triggers skin cell multiplying mutations.
The tumors that constitute melanoma skin cancer resemble moles and are often black or brown but have been found to be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue, and white. When these tumors are quickly identified, the condition is almost always curable. However, if the cancer is able to spread to other areas of the body, the condition may become difficult to treat and incurable.
The Skin Cancer Foundation predicts that over 76,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the United States each year with 10,130 individuals dying from the disease each year as well. These statistics are notable as while melanoma is diagnosed in less than 1% of all skin cancer diagnosis, it constitutes an overwhelming majority of skin cancer related deaths.
Melanoma Skin Cancer Risk Factors
Who Is At Risk Of Getting Melanoma Skin Cancer?
While melanoma risk factors are primarily dependent on the actions of an individual, there are some preconditions that cannot be controlled that may make individuals vulnerable to melanoma.
The first predetermined risk factor for melanoma skin cancer is being fair skinned. While being fair skinned does not directly pose a risk for melanoma development, as pigment (melanin) levels in the skin decrease, so to does the skins ability to protect itself from damaging ultraviolet radiation. Those who lack melanin levels comparable to those with darker complexion typically:
- Have Blonde or Red Hair
- Have Light-Colored Eyes
- Freckle or Sunburn Easily
Additionally, those who have a family history of melanoma – parent, sibling, etc. – typically report higher rates of melanoma development than those without melanoma family histories. However, a simple bodily observation can also work to determine an increased risk of developing melanoma.
Those who have moles in excess of 50, are at a higher risk of developing melanoma. Also, discovery of an unusual mole – larger with irregular borders and colors – can indicated a heightened risk of melanoma.
Regarding factors that can be controlled or are effected by an individuals actions, the most common include having a history of sunburn, prolonged exposure to ultraviolet exposure, geographic location, and a weakened immune system.
Individuals who regularly expose themselves to dangerous levels of ultraviolet light and develop severe, blistering sunburns as a result expose themselves to a heightened risk of melanoma. This is because these factors work to cause DNA damage on skin cells that after several occasions could become irreparable.
The geographic location of an individual also plays a major role in determining the likelihood of developing melanoma, as those close to the equator are routinely exposed to more intense and concentrated amounts of ultraviolet radiation.
A weakened immune system is the most unique of the known risk factors associated with melanoma, as it has nothing to do with genetics or ultraviolet radiation exposure. Rather, this risk factor involves those who have undergone organ transplants or have experienced other illness that weakened their immune systems. With a weakened immune system, the body is less able to repair even minor damage to skin cells leaving the body vulnerable to any form of skin damage culminating into melanoma.
How Can I Reduce My Risk Of Melanoma Skin Factor?
There are multiple actions one can take to lower their risk of developing melanoma skin cancer, with most of them involving adding protection to your skin or avoiding the effects of ultraviolet radiation.
One of the most basic efforts that can be taken to reduce the risk of melanoma is consistent application of sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher, whenever time is spent outside. In addition to sunscreen, it is important to wear protective clothing – long sleeves, hates, sunglasses, etc. – as well. Both of these efforts will work to protect the skin from dangerous exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
Other efforts include avoiding activities outside during mid-day sun ray peaks. However, the most effective measure that can be taken is to halt use of tanning beds. Studies have indicated that at times use of tanning beds can increase the risk of melanoma by nearly 75%.
Melanoma Skin Cancer Causes
How Do I Get Melanoma Skin Cancer?
Melanoma skin cancer cell growth is triggered by issues occurring regarding melanin-producing cells. When enough risk factors compound, cells with permanent DNA damage new cells may begin to grow out of control. This rapid control is accelerated by the bodies inability to us new cells to push the old damaged cells to the surface of the skin and away from the body.
While exposure to ultraviolet radiation is not the sole cause of melanoma, it is the most commonly hypothesized and prevalent reason.
What Are Medications That Cause Melanoma Skin Cancer?
In addition to the aforementioned risk factors and direct causes of melanoma skin cancer, there have been reports by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and independent medical researchers indicating a correlative relationship between a popular drug and melanoma skin cancer.
Viagra is the most popular drug prescribed to combat symptoms of erectile dysfunction in males of all ages. The drug effects millions of consumers per year but recent studies have indicated that prolonged use of the drug may make consumers more vulnerable to the development of melanoma skin cancer. While the relationship cannot be defined as a causation relationship, there is enough evidence to suggest that past and current viagra users should heed caution if they believe they may be at risk of developing melanoma skin cancer.
Melanoma Skin Cancer Symptoms
Melanoma can initially develop anywhere in you body but most often develop in an area that has received the most sun exposure – back, legs, arms and face. Although more common for those with darker skin, melanoma can also develop in areas protected from sun exposure including the soles of the feet, palms of the hands, and fingernail beds.
Symptoms are not always identifiable when melanoma is in its early stages of development. Undetected melanoma typically develops in an existing mole, skin mark, or may appear to be a bruise that isn’t healing. More noticeable symptoms that may develop early on include a melanoma that is sore, itchy, or bleeding. Some have even reported cases of a brown or black streak developing under a finger or toe nail.
According to WebMD, while men are more susceptible to melanoma in the upper back, women routinely find it developing on their legs. As men grow older, melanoma of the neck, scalp, and ears becomes more common.
Identifying a new mole on your body should not trigger any cause for alarm as most people have between 10 and 45 moles on their body with most development occurring before age 50. A non-melanoma mole is generally uniform in color – tan, brown, black – with a border the offers a noticeable separation between the mole and surrounding skin.
Moles may alter in appearance over time and in some cases, may completely disappear. A mole that falls into this description is generally not a mole that indicates melanoma, however, an individual should remain aware of the status of moles to be in a position to notice any developments that may indicate melanoma.
Most of the time, an individual can determine if a mole or skin growth is an indication of melanoma by observing the progress of its development or change over time. The changes that should be observed occur in a period of up to a month.
Someone observing the progress of moles and skin growths should abide by the ABCDE’s for melanoma identification:
- Asymmetrical Shape – Identify irregularly shaped moles or those with two different halves
- Border Irregularity – Healthy moles have distinct borders, look for those with notched or blurred borders
- Color – Melanoma growths may have uneven color distribution
- Diameter – Healthy moles are the size of a pencil eraser (1/4 inch), those larger may indicate melanoma
- Evolving – Moles that grow change size, color, or shape rapidly, may become itchy or prone to bleeding
If any of these developments are identified in a mole or skin growth, medical guidance should be immediately sought to determine if melanoma is in early stages of development.
Melanoma and Existing Moles
While melanoma can develop in the form of a new growth or mole, the condition can also take form in an already existing growth.
Signs to look for include:
- Elevation of a previously flat mole
- Scaling, erosion, bleeding, or crusting of the mole
- Redness or swelling of the surround skin
- Heightened sensation
- Softening or breaking of mole pieces
These symptoms may also indicate skin conditions other than melanoma but still remain the most commonly identifiable signs of melanoma in an existing mole.
Although areas exposed to sun are most susceptible to melanoma, there are cases in which melanoma develops in areas with little to no exposure to the sun. Melanoma that develops in these areas – palms, soles, scalp, etc. – are exceptionally dangerous as most people do not check for signs of melanoma in these places.
Because of this, melanomas in these areas are often referred to as hidden melanomas. Darker skinned individuals who develop melanoma are more likely to suffer from hidden melanomas than fair skinned individuals.
Melanoma Skin Cancer Treatments
How Can Melanoma Skin Cancer Be Treated?
Treatment for melanoma depends on several factors including stage of development, size of cancer, health of the individual, and the status of cancer metastasizes.
However, regardless of the status of these factors the initial treatment effort will be to remove the identified tumor(s) from your skin, most often through a minor surgical procedure.
The minor surgery will have the medical professional – dermatologist for surface level growths – numb the skin and cut out the melanoma along with the surrounding skin to eliminate the risk of the cancer spreading. The surgery will require stitches for one or two weeks and if surface level will allow the individual to immediately return home.
If the cancer was identified and treated in this manner at an early stage of development, the minor surgery may be the only treatment method required. However, if the cancer was able to enter later stages of development, addition measures may need to be taken in order to fully eliminate the cancer.
Lymph Node Removal Surgery
When melanoma is able to spread, it often spreads to nearby lymph nodes. In the event this happens, your surgeon may need to remove the affected nodes with additional treatments before and after the surgery possibly being required.
Chemotherapy is possibly the most well-known of all cancer treatment methods. This method can be administered by pill or injection and subsequently spreads throughout the body or cancer-struck area, destroying all cancer calls as it does so.
Radiation therapy involves exposing the body or specific area to high-powered energy beams that kill cancer cells. For melanoma patients, this treatment method is a common effort to undergo after surgery to remove lymph nodes as it can be used to ensure the destruction of any remaining cancer cells. Additionally, the method is sometimes used in an attempt to eradicate melanoma cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
Biological therapy utilizes the body’s immune system to identify and destroy invasive cancer cells. Made of substances produced by the body or with similar composition, they are injected into the body or administered through IV ever 2-4 weeks. Melanoma in the face may require biological therapy in cream form instead of injections that will affect the entire body.
While effective, there are several side effects that may occur when pursuing this treatment method. These include flu-like symptoms and the body attacking otherwise healthy organs.
Targeted therapy specifically targets cancer cells and their vulnerabilities to prevent the continuation of dangerous growth. While this treatment may find initial success, it does not have the staying power of other treatments.
How to Prevent Cancer
Cancer prevention can vary based on different research, and opinionated studies or news reports. However, these simple lifestyle changes can make a difference in the prevention of developing or forming cancer.
- Eat healthy
- Limit or stop your use of tobacco
- Have a balanced lifestyle
- Avoid risky behavior
- Visit your doctor
- Protect your skin from the sun
What Drugs are Used to Treat Melanoma Skin Cancer?
The following drugs and medications are in some way related to, or used in the treatment of melanoma skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute:
- Intron A
- Peginterferon Alfa-2b
- Recombinant Interferon Alfa-2b
- Talimogene Laherparepvec