Pigment producing cells, called melanocytes, cause an aggressive form of cancer known as melanoma. Though these cells are commonly found in the skin, they can be in other areas of the body too. Skin cancer is on the rise.
Unfortunately, more than 65 percent of deaths are caused by this aggressive form of skin cancer. The most common site for these cancerous cells is found on the face. These moles are mostly found in older adults, and men typically develop them on the head and neck areas. For melanomas found on the head and neck areas, the survival rate is 17 percent in the five-year mark, and they have a 5 percent chance of survival at the ten-year mark.
Melanoma Risk Factors
Those who have a fair completion are more likely to develop melanomas, however, one can develop these cancerous lesions without having any risk factors. Anyone that has a suspicious growth should have them examined by a board-certified head and neck specialist. Some risk factors for melanoma include:
- Fair skin with freckles
- Skin that does not tan and burns easily
- Light colored eyes
- Blonde or red hair
- Using a tanning bed or excessive sunbathing
- Being exposed to radiation or vinyl chloride
- Having numerous blistering sunburns
- A family history of unusual moles
- A family history of skin cancer
- Being immunocompromised
Melanoma Signs and Symptoms
An irregular mole is one of the first signs of skin cancer. The mole can be dark, change in appearance or color, or have irregularities. The American Cancer Society uses the ABCDE guideline to help people learn about the early warning signs. This acronym is as follows:
- Asymmetry: The mole is different on both sides.
- Borders: The borders are either ragged or irregular in pattern.
- Color: The color is not uniform. A white/red/blue discoloration is often seen.
- Diameter: If a mole is larger than 6mm diameter, it needs to be evaluated.
- Evolving: If a mole changes appearance, it needs to be seen by a professional.
Diagnosis of Melanoma
To be diagnosed with melanoma, one should start with a physical examination. A physician will inquire about the patient’s history and do initial diagnostics. The size, shape, color, and texture of the mole will be evaluated. If the doctor suspects melanoma, then they will do a biopsy. A biopsy is the best way to diagnose skin cancer. Due to the fact that skin cancer can quickly move through the tissues and lymphatic system, CT and PET scans may also be utilized.
Melanoma Treatment Options
From diagnosis to treatment and then to recovery, it is important to have a skilled medical team. There are many diverse methods to treat melanoma, which include excision techniques, radiation, and chemotherapy. The mainstay for this skin condition is surgical intervention. Removing the melanoma can be done in many different ways. The most common method is to use skin grafting, which takes healthy skin from other areas and replaces skin surgically removed.
Additionally, chemotherapy is used to kill off any remaining cells. Chemotherapy will stop the cells from further dividing. It can be given either orally or intravenously. Radiation can also disrupt cell growth. A machine directs a beam of light to the area affected by cancer. Lastly, immunotherapy uses the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. The most commonly used are interferon and interleukin-2. These boost the cell’s response and kill the cancer cells.
The treatment of melanoma is constantly evolving. Some people are eligible for clinical trials and other research programs. Additional treatment options may be available to some patients, depending on their case.