Melanoma is an uncommon but severe type of cancer associated with the mutation of melanocytes, the cells that produce the pigment melanin. It’s a disease that commonly develops on the skin. However, it can originate in other organs like the eyes, nose, brain, lymph nodes, and in rare cases, the intestines. There are five stages of this disease, and if not treated, it spreads exponentially.
Symptoms of melanoma
Melanoma is difficult to detect in its early stages. However, here are some skin changes you need to watch out for:
- Change of shape, color, size, border, or texture of a mole
- A skin sore that bleeds or doesn’t heal
- A red lump that bleeds or is ulcerated
- A red patch that feels rough, dry, or scaly
- Spot on the skin that is smooth and shiny
These are some skin alterations that can help doctors diagnose the stage of melanoma and the suitable treatment.
Risk factors of melanoma
- Exposure to the sun
- A history of sunburn
- An abnormally high number of moles
- A high number of freckles
- Fair, pale skin
- Light eyes and hair
- Family history of melanoma
- Organ transplant
- Weakened immune system
- Old age
One cannot completely prevent a skin disorder. However, here are a few precautionary measures to avoid melanoma:
- Avoid stepping out in the hot sun.
- Wear clothes that protect the skin from sun rays.
- Always use sunscreen, a minimum of 30 spectrum.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours when outdoors.
- Always carry a jacket or a scarf to protect the skin.
- Walk under shade whenever possible.
Stages of melanoma
Identifying the stage of any disease helps determine how far the disease has spread and the treatment it needs. The following are the stages of melanoma:
Stage 0: “Melanoma in situ” is the medical term for this stage. It means cancer has not spread beyond the outer surface of the skin.
Stage 1: Also known as a localized tumor, in stage 1 of melanoma, the cancer cells are present in both the epidermis and dermis. It is up to 2mm thick, and the patient may or may not have ulceration. There are minute chances of it reaching the lymph nodes or other sites.
Stage 2: At this stage, the cancer is a minimum of 1mm in size and can be thicker than 4mm. The cancer cells are present in both the epidermis and dermis. However, they are not yet present in the lymph nodes and other sites.
Stage 3: At this stage, the regional spread of the cancer cells begin. They make their way into regional lymph nodes or lymphatic channels but not distant sites. If visible, it may be ulcerated and thicker than 4mm.
Stage 4: This is the last stage of melanoma in which the cancer cells spread beyond the original region to other organs like the lungs, liver, brain, bone, lymph nodes, and intestines.
Types of melanoma
There are four types of melanoma. Here are a few points to note about them:
Superficial spreading melanoma: This is the most common type of melanoma among people between 30 and 50 years. It originates on the legs for women and back for men. The melanoma spots can be of any color, and they’re either flat or slightly raised.
Nodular melanoma: These are blue-black or purple lumps that grow faster and are thicker than superficial melanoma.
Lentigo maligna: This type of melanoma occurs on body parts that are regularly exposed to the sun, for instance, the face. They are large, oddly shaped freckles.
Acral lentiginous melanoma: This rare type of melanoma is common among people with darker skin types. It originates under the nails, soles, or palms.