What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer. It can be “in situ” which means that the cancer is confined to the top layer of skin, thus being highly curable. It can also be “malignant” which means that the cancer can spread to other parts of the body which significantly decreases the survivability rate. Melanoma in situ can grow to be malignant melanoma if not treated. The key to surviving melanoma is early detection, and especially before it becomes malignant. Melanoma caught in the early stages of its development is highly curable with a 97% survival rate.
A danger of melanoma is that it could look like a harmless mole, or appear in unlikely places. Melanoma might grow independent of a mole or grow from an existing mole. They could have similar colors and appear just as harmless. However, almost all adults have at least a few moles, and most have 10 - 40 according to the American Academy of Dermatology. So how does one differentiate a common, harmless mole from the most dangerous skin cancer? The “ABCDE” signs of melanoma can help determine if a mole is suspicious, but it’s important to follow that up with trusted, expert opinion to evaluate the danger of the growth.
ABCDE signs of melanoma:
Asymmetry - A harmless mole is symmetrical, but melanoma is asymmetrical.
Border - A harmless mole has a smooth, well-defined border, but melanomas might have blurred, rugged, and uneven.
Color - A harmless mole could be various colors, but it will be consistent throughout the growth. Melanoma will have various colors like red, light to dark brown, or black throughout the growth.
Diameter - A harmless mole isn’t suspected to be melanoma if it’s less than 6mm, but melanoma is usually greater than 6mm.
Evolving - A harmless mole might grow in size, but it will look consistent as it does. Melanoma will change in size, shape, and color as it grows.
If a spot is exhibiting any of these signs, don’t hesitate to get an expert opinion on it. A photo is usually enough for an online dermatologist to determine if a spot is suspicious or harmless. A quick photo could ease the mind or save a life when dealing with suspicious spots.
Melanoma is formed from the excessive growth of melanocytes, which are pigment cells in the skin that give the skin its color. The excessive growth is caused by DNA damage. This damage modifies melanocyte growth cycles and causes them to grow out of control into a mass of cancerous cells. In a study done by Cancer Research UK, 86% of skin melanomas are caused by UV radiation damage to DNA. Thus, many causes of skin melanoma can be attributed to exposure to UV radiation that causes the DNA damage. Here are various sources of UV radiation that could cause melanoma:
• Sun exposure
• Tanning beds
• Tanning lamps
DNA can still be damaged naturally, aside from UV radiation. As cells divide and new DNA is made for the new cells, a cell’s internal mechanisms might make a mistake in the creation of DNA and cause DNA damage that way. And although not a direct cause, a family history of melanoma could also result in an inherited predisposition to melanoma. This makes melanocytes more prone to excessive growth.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, but detection in its early stages causes a 97% survival rate. If there is suspicion of melanoma, it’s important to get it checked out by a dermatologist right away. The process of treatment starts with detection. Our dermatologists can tell you if a spot is suspicious, dangerous, or nothing to worry about through photos. If a spot is suspected to be melanoma, a patient can be referred to an in-person dermatologist for biopsy. If confirmed to be melanoma, surgery may be necessary.
Home RemediesWhile home remedies have taken on popularity, there are little to no studies confirming the effectiveness of such treatments. In some cases, it might even do more harm than good considering their minimal effectiveness versus the unknown side effects they could have on your body. It’s best to follow the medical advice of a dermatologist because they know what will or will not treat the disease. Here are some popular home remedies that you should be careful with:
Over the Counter Medication
While some over the counter (OTC) medications are effective enough to be given as prescriptions, other OTC medications have limited effects on disease. They might help for mild to moderate cases, but they aren’t usually effective on severe ones. If used incorrectly and without guidance, they might even prove to be ineffective and produce unforeseen side effects. However, a dermatologist can tell you whether or not these can be effective for you. Unfortunately, there are no over the counter medications for melanoma.
Prescriptions, alongside professional medical advice, are the most effective form of treatment. Home remedies and over the counter treatments take plenty of time, energy, and money, yet are uncertain to work. Our experienced dermatologists take your unique skin, set of symptoms, and medical history into account to take the guessing game out of your road to recovery. Here are some prescriptions your dermatologist might include in your personalized treatment plan:
Immunotherapy drugs - These boosts the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.
Targeted therapy drugs - These target genes, proteins, or the tissue environment involved with cancer growth.
Chemotherapy drugs - These interfere with cell growth cycles to prevent cell growth. However, these interfere with healthy cell growth in addition to cancer cell growth.
Post Treatment Prevention
After being seen by one of our SkyMD dermatologists, you’ve been equipped with the treatment plan and prescription(s) to treat your discomfort. However, disease can be persistent, so you have to be too. A skin care routine and a set of disease-preventing habits recommended by our dermatologists are essential for long term prevention. Here are some popular prevention strategies that could supplement your personalized treatment plan:
Avoid UV radiation - UV rays increase the risk of melanoma. Avoid sunburns, tanning, and intense sunlight. Wear sunscreen and clothes that cover a lot of skin.
Regular examination - This should be done both by yourself frequently and a dermatologist annually to ensure that no spots turn into melanoma.