Melanoma has a well-deserved reputation of being the most serious type of cancer. For patients who develop skin cancer, Melanoma accounts for as much as three-fourths of the deaths attributed to this particular disease. One of the most common and deadly cancers, melanoma needs to be detected as soon as possible in order for patients to receive the most effective care. Anyone who notices an unusual mole, sun spot or skin blemish should seek help from a doctor or dermatologist -- this is especially true for people who spend lots of time outdoors. Here are the early warning symptoms of melanoma, as wells as the latest new treatment options available.
The cause of Melanoma can be traced to the cells in skin called melanocytes, which produce melanin, the pigment that gives hair, eyes, and skin their color. Melanoma develops when exposed to too much of the sun's UV rays. Those who have had intense exposure to the sun and/or have had sunburns that have blistered one or more times in their lives are at risk for developing this type of skin cancer. Melanoma can appear suddenly and without warning, in the form of moles found on the surface of the skin.
Normal moles are fairly uniform in structure, and can be raised or flat on the surface of the skin. They are usually less than a quarter of an inch in diameter and tend to be black, tan, or brown in color. Once a mole has appeared, it generally stays the same shape and size over the course of many years. Melanoma can sometimes appear to be similar to normal moles, but then start to change color, shape, and size as it develops.
One easy way to determine whether or not a mole might be melanoma is the ABCDE rule. A is for Assymetry, or if the mark on the skin is uneven in shape. B is for Border, which stands for blurred, ragged, or irregular edges. C is for color, since melanoma tend to be several different colors including red, purple, white, and blue. D stands for diameter, referring to a melanoma's large size when compared to normal moles, and E is for Evolving, meaning that the mole changes shape or size over time.
While these changes are common for the detection of melanoma, not all of these are true for each case. It is essential for patients to see their physicians if there are any changes to the skin, including unusual lumps, sores, blemishes, and moles. Additional warning symptoms of melanoma include redness or swelling of an affected area, itchiness, pain, tenderness, and sores on the skin that don't heal. Melanoma can appear on the legs, back, face, neck and arms, and a doctor can help inspect places on the body that are difficult for patients to check themselves. Melanoma can even appear on parts of the body that are not exposed to sunlight.
Early detection of melanoma is essential for treatment. The most common skin cancer treatments include surgery, in which the cancerous tumors are removed to prevent the melanoma from spreading. The latest melanoma treatments include the development of new drugs, including Ipilimumab, which works with a patient's immune system to eradicate the presence of melanoma. Researchers are also striving to develop a vaccine to treat melanoma, along with genetic therapy that targets certain types of melanoma. While continued research is vital, observation by patients and physicians is the first line of defense against the spread of melanoma.