Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops in the melanocytes, which are the skin cells that produce melanin (the pigment that gives your skin its color). Although melanoma is considered the most serious type of skin cancer, it can also sometimes develop in your eyes or in your internal organs. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 73,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2015, and up to 10,000 people are expected to die from the disease. The earlier you are diagnosed with melanoma, the more successfully it is able to be treated.
Depending on the stage and size of your cancer, as well as your personal preferences and overall health, you and your doctor will determine the best treatment plan for you.
If your melanoma is caught in the very early stages and has not yet spread beyond the skin, then treatment is usually fairly simple. Typically, the entire melanoma will be removed during minor surgery, and sometimes the surgeon will also remove a border of normal skin and the layer of tissue beneath the skin to ensure that all of the cancer cells are removed.
However, if your melanoma has spread beyond your skin, then you will require more treatment options, including:
- Surgery: If your melanoma has spread to any of your lymph nodes, then you will need immediate surgery to remove the affected ones.
- Chemotherapy: This is one of the most popular forms of treatment for many different types of cancer. Chemotherapy is a drug that is usually administered intravenously to destroy cancer cells throughout your entire body. If your melanoma is contained to one limb, you might also be eligible to receive an isolated limb perfusion, in which chemotherapy drugs are given in a vein in your arm or leg while the blood in that limb is not allowed to travel to other areas of your body for a short period of time. This allows the chemotherapy to focus directly on the area around your melanoma without unnecessarily affecting other parts of your body.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation is a treatment therapy that uses high-powered energy beams similar to X-rays to kill cancer cells in a localized area. Sometimes radiation therapy is used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells that may have been left behind.
- Biological therapy: This type of cancer treatment uses medications to boost your immune system and help your body fight off the cancer cells more effectively.
- Targeted therapy: If your cancer cells have a specific type of genetic mutation, then you can take therapy medications that are designed to target specific vulnerabilities in cancer cells in order to destroy them.
There are certain things you can do to reduce your risk of developing melanoma as well as other types of skin cancer. These include:
- Avoid the midday sun: The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM in North America, so try to avoid being outdoors during this time as much as possible.
- Wear sunscreen when outdoors: Use sunscreen when you are outside year-round, even in the winter-time when you don’t feel like you could be getting burned.
- Wear protective clothing: Sunscreens will not protect against all UV rays, so covering your skin with dark clothing and broad-brimmed hats is also important for protecting your skin and preventing melanoma.
- Self-examine your skin periodically: You should be familiar with your skin so you will notice any changes and be able to report them to your doctor as soon as possible.
- Avoid tanning beds and tanning lamps: The UV rays that are found in these devices will greatly increase your risk of developing skin cancer.