Melanoma: Amplifying Awareness and Advocating for Regular Body Checks

May 1, 2024

Melanoma: Amplifying Awareness and Advocating for Regular Body Checks

Melanoma is an invasive and fast-spreading skin cancer with the highest Fatality rate. It develops and grows often without symptoms, or the black tumor may be mistaken as a harmless mole. Though it is a life-threatening condition, earlier detection can increase your chances of survival. So, schedule regular appointments with your dermatologist for regular body checks to detect melanomas earlier or to determine if you carry any risk factors for the condition. This will help you spot anything unusual and get timely medical assistance.

This blog discusses the causes, risk factors, symptoms, and prevention strategies of melanoma to raise awareness about the condition so you can immediately protect yourself and your loved ones.

Understanding Melanoma

Melanoma is a black tumor that develops from melanocytes (pigment-producing cells). While it can occur anywhere on your body, including the face, internal organs, and eyes, men mostly get melanoma on their trunk (upper back) and women on their legs. Melanomas can be typically black or brown but also skin-colored, red, pink, and purple. The Skin Cancer Foundation reveals that 200,340 melanoma cases are estimated to be diagnosed in the US in 2024, out of which 8,290 cases will be fatal. The five-year survival rate of melanomas detected earlier is over 99%. That’s why it is essential to have regular screenings for melanoma.

Causes of Melanoma

Excessive exposure to sunlight is said to be the primary cause of melanoma, contributing to 86% of cases. UV exposure damages the cells’ DNA. Our body tries to repair this damage, but when the damage is beyond what the body can heal, the cells change, resulting in skin cancer. The type of skin cancer you develop depends on which cells undergo mutations. Melanoma develops when melanocytes change. Besides, UV radiation from tanning beds is likely to cause melanomas, contributing to over 6000 cases yearly.

Risk Factors of Melanoma

You may have an increased risk of developing melanoma if you:

  • Have a personal or family history of melanoma
  • Spend time outdoors without skin protection
  • Have fair skin, blue eyes, red or blond hair, or freckles
  • Use tanning beds or indoor tanning equipment frequently
  • Have had blistering sunburns
  • Are 50 years or older
  • Have many moles, especially atypical (improperly shaped) ones
  • Are immuno-compromised
  • Have had thyroid or breast cancer
  • Reside near the equator or in high-elevation zones
  • Have xeroderma pigmentosum (a condition causing your skin to be unable to repair after UV damage)

Symptoms of Melanoma

Melanoma can appear as scaly patches, moles, raised bumps, or open sores. Here are the signs you have to watch out for:

  • Accumulation of darker skin around a toenail or fingernail
  • Changing mole
  • A patch of thick skin that grows gradually, looking like a scar
  • A spot that resembles a new mole or freckle but looks different from other spots on your skin
  • The black or dark-brown vertical line below a toenail or fingernail
  • A growing, jagged-border spot having more than one color
  • A dome-shaped, sore-like growth that is firm to touch but bleeds

Prevention Strategies for Melanoma

The following strategies can prevent melanomas: 

  • Don’t use tanning beds and lamps.
  • Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Schedule outdoor activities before or after this time.
  • Protect your skin from the sun while going out by wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts, hats with brims, and sunglasses.
  • Use sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher daily or every two hours if you are sweating or swimming.
  • Regularly examine your skin for new growths and bumps or changes in the size, color, or shape of existing moles, freckles, patches, etc.
  • Keep up with your dermatology appointments, as medical intervention is crucial to diagnose skin cancers earlier.

Importance of Regular Body Checks

The significance of early diagnosis of skin cancer cannot be overstated. Identifying melanoma early in life enables timely intervention, enhancing successful treatment chances.

Here are the reasons why early detection is vital:

  • Enhanced Treatment Results

Early-stage melanoma is typically thin and localized, making it more feasible to remove, leading to higher surgical success rates. 

  • Simplified Treatment Regimen

In early-stage melanoma, less aggressive treatments like surgical excision may be sufficient, whereas advanced cases often require more intricate interventions such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy.

  • Minimized Spread Risk

If not treated, melanoma can spread to different areas of the body, impacting prognosis and recovery.

Melanoma is classified into different stages according to where it spreads:

  • Stage 0 (Melanoma in situ) – The melanoma develops on the epidermis (top layer of skin).
  • Stage I – Low-risk primary melanoma that won’t spread and is curable with surgery.
  • Stage II – The melanoma can recur but won’t spread.
  • Stage III – The melanoma spreads to nearby lymph nodes or skin.
  • Stage IV – The melanoma spreads to more distant lymph nodes or internal organs.

The survival rate of melanoma that is spread to lymph nodes is 74%, and distant organs are 35%. So, detecting it early reduces the chances of metastasis, thereby improving the likelihood of a successful cure.

Advocacy and Awareness Efforts

Raising melanoma awareness and promoting skin health education is essential to preventing melanoma and directing people to timely intervention. Several organizations and campaigns are dedicated to spreading insights and data about melanoma, including The Skin Cancer Foundation, The American Cancer Society, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, etc. Learning from these organizations can help get handy information on prevention, early detection, and treatment of melanoma. They also advocate for policies that can help reduce the incidence of skin cancer, including:

  • Educating the possible signs and symptoms of melanoma
  • Discussing the risk factors of melanoma
  • Sharing success stories
  • Advocating treatment success rates and survival rates of early detected cases
  • Emphasize reducing sun exposure and using sunscreen and protective clothing
  • Presenting information in a comprehending format

Suspecting Melanoma? Visit IDI for Prompt Intervention!

If you are looking for a trusted and experienced clinic for best-in-class melanoma treatment, consider visiting Illinois Dermatology Institute. Our Cancer Care Team includes MOHS surgeons, CAP approved laboratory with experienced dermatopathologists, and a team of Clinical Support Services Representatives to answer questions, schedule follow ups and work with you and your family to reach the best outcome. We offer state-of-the-art treatment options for all skin cancers, including surgical excision,  superficial radiation therapy, etc., and are committed to providing personalized care to each patient. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about our services.

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