What is melanoma: how to detect it in time and who to contact

Melanoma is a rare but extremely dangerous form of skin cancer. If the tumor grows beyond the upper layer of the skin by only 1 mm, there is already a high risk of metastases. A benign mole can turn into a malignant process and lead to metastasis in a couple of months.

Melanoma of the skin and its danger

Let’s take a closer look at what skin melanoma is. This is a cancer that develops from pigment cells – melanocytes. Due to the violation of the DNA structure, their uncontrolled malignant growth begins. Pigmented melanoma is a particularly dangerous form of the disease with an aggressive course. It occurs in 1.8-8.1% of cases of such skin cancer, and requires starting treatment as early as possible.

As one of the types of malignant neoplasms of the skin, melanoma accounts for 3% of all types of cancer, and in terms of the average annual increase in cases, it is ahead of other oncological diseases (about 3.9% per year in Russia). Over the past 40 years, the number of patients with this diagnosis has increased 15 times, but at the same time, there has been an increase in the overall 5-year survival rate. This is due to the early diagnosis of melanoma at the stage when the tumor did not have time to grow in depth, the improvement of surgical methods of treatment and antitumor therapy.  

The prognosis of cure is most favorable if cancer is detected at an early stage. The survival rate is 90-95%. At an early stage, the tumor can be removed, and then the condition of the skin can be monitored so that in case of recurrence it can be detected and acted upon in time.

Why does melanoma occur?

The exact causes of melanoma are still unknown. The main risk factor is prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation. To reduce the likelihood of skin cancer, it is necessary to reduce the time spent in the sun. However, a complete rejection of this does not provide 100% protection against melanoma. Dermatologists advise limiting your stay at dangerous hours – from 11 to 16 o’clock in the afternoon, as well as time – no more than 30 minutes (if longer, you need to apply protective agents with SPF50 +).

A visit to a solarium also increases the risk of developing melanoma. Research shows that in young people under 35, fake tanning can increase the likelihood of skin cancer by 75%. In terms of the degree of danger in relation to the development of melanoma, the tanning bed is on the same level with smoking as the cause of lung cancer.

Moles as a reason

In 50% of cases, cancer is formed from pre-existing moles. The more of them, the higher the risk of facing melanoma. The process can be triggered by trauma, frequent exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and a change in hormonal balance. For this reason, it is necessary to periodically inspect moles for any changes. Suspicion should be raised by:  

  • active growth for a couple of weeks or months;
  • change in color, shape, or borders;
  • the appearance of small moles and spots nearby;
  • the appearance of blood from a mole for no reason;
  • crusts, ulceration;
  • pain and itching in the area of ​​the mole.

Risk factors (who is at risk)

10% of people with melanoma have a familial melanoma inheritance. According to studies, if two or more close relatives have experienced skin cancer, then the likelihood of developing it increases significantly. The risk group includes people:

  • with pale skin that does not lend itself well to sunburn;
  • a lot of freckles;
  • red or blond hair;
  • blue eyes;
  • scars from burns;
  • diseases of the immune system (HIV);
  • exposed to chemicals.

How to detect melanoma at an early stage

Since melanoma is dangerous, a person needs to be very serious about strange neoplasms, be it a mole, a wart, or a pimple. In no case should you delay visiting a doctor, because in just a couple of months, radical treatment may be useless, and the specialist will offer only supportive therapy.

Diagnosis of melanoma includes:

  • Dermatoscopy. Suspicious moles and skin areas are examined through a dermatoscope – a special microscope that allows you to study the skin in incident light (electroluminescence effect).
  • Smear print. It is used if there are cracks or sores on the surface of the formation. Tumor cells are looked for in the smear.
  • Biopsy. Allows you to accurately determine the type of tumor: malignant or benign. For this, the tumor site is examined under a microscope.
  • Computer, magnetic resonance imaging or positron emission tomography. Any of the tests to check other organs for metastases.
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy. Helps to clarify the diagnosis and determine if there are metastases. Usually, tumor cells are retained by the nearest lymph node, so it is checked for the presence of metastases.

Special biopsy method

Taking a biopsy is a controversial issue in the case of melanoma, since trauma to the tumor can cause its rapid growth. In some cases, excisional biopsy is used. The surgeon excises the neoplasm by capturing 2-10 mm of healthy skin around it. While the patient is being sutured, the formation is urgently sent for histology, often right in the operating room. If the diagnosis is confirmed, the surgeon immediately proceeds to reoperation. The task is to remove all the tumor that could have grown deep into the skin. It all depends on the results of histology, which determines the stage of the disease.

Dermatologist or oncologist treats melanoma

If a suspicious neoplasm appears on the skin or the mole has somehow changed, you need to contact a dermatologist. He will be able to assess the appearance of age spots and nevi, conduct dermatoscopy. If the mole is not dangerous, but interferes or there is a risk of accidentally damaging it, you will be prompted to remove it. If cancer is suspected, a specialist will refer you to an oncologist who deals with more complex diagnostics and treatment of malignant neoplasms. 

event_note May 23, 2021

account_box Dr. Peter B Milburn

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