Melanoma is a type of skin cancer, and the most dangerous type. In fact, melanoma is the leading cause of death from skin diseases and skin cancers. Most people are familiar with melanoma of the skin, but it can also occur in the colored part of the eye which is just as dangerous as the skin cancer from melanoma. In most cases, melanoma is caused by unprotected sun exposure for long periods of time.
Types of Melanoma
There are four main types of melanoma, each of which experience a different appearance. Superficial spreading melanoma looks like flat and irregular shapes and colors including shades of black and brown. This is the most common type of melanoma and common among Caucasians. Nodular melanoma causes dark black-blue or blue-red bumps that are raised, though some are raised without colors. Lentigo maligna melanoma is more common in the elderly and people with sun-damaged skin. These marks appear like large, flat and tan or brown spots on the face, neck, or arms. Lastly, there is acral lentiginous melanoma which is the least common type of melanoma and appears on the soles, under the nails, or on the palms of the hands; this is more common among African Americans.
Causes of Melanoma
Melanoma is caused by a change in the cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for the skin pigment known as melanin. This is what determines the skin and hair color. Some people with moles as children will gradually develop into melanoma. You are at a higher risk for melanoma if you get unprotected sun exposure, are older, have fair skin with blue or green eyes and red or blonde hair, live in sunny climates, use tanning devices, had blistering sunburns as a child, have relatives with melanoma, have atypical o dysplastic moles on your skin, or if you have a weakened immune system from a medication or disease.
Diagnosing and Treating Melanoma
Diagnosing melanoma first requires a physical examination where your doctor looks at the size, color, shape, and texture of skin spots or moles on your body. They will then take a piece of skin from the area and have it sent to a lab who will look at it under a microscope; this is called a skin biopsy. Other tests may be needed including a sentinel lymph node biopsy, CT scan, or x-ray to see if the cancer spread. To treat melanoma, surgery is needed to remove the cancerous area and surrounding tissue. More treatment may be necessary if it has spread to other parts of the body, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.