Skin cancer, particularly melanoma, is the most common form of cancer. It is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and other sources, such as tanning beds. Melanoma begins when UV radiation damages the DNA in skin cells, causing them to mutate or change. With time, these mutated cells can grow and spread, forming a tumor. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body, although it is most commonly seen on the arms, legs, and face. It is especially dangerous because it can spread quickly through the body if not detected and treated early. Symptoms may include changes in existing moles, dark spots or patches of a different color than the surrounding skin, or a sore that doesn’t heal. Early detection is key, so it is important to perform regular self-exams and see a dermatologist regularly. Treatments vary and may include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
The most common and visible early symptom of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or changes to an existing mole. Changes in a mole include:
- A mole that looks different from other existing moles
- A mole that changes in size, shape, or color
- A mole that has an irregular or notched border
- A mole that is more than one color (e.g. shades of brown, tan, and/or black)
- A mole that itches, oozes, is painful, or bleeds
- A mole that appears raised and has a lumpy, nodular, or scaly texture
Other possible symptoms of melanoma may include dark patches on the skin, unexplained swelling, and unusual or unexplained sores or lumps. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to consult with a dermatologist.
The main cause of skin cancer (melanoma) is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from natural sunlight and/or artificial sources such as tanning lamps and beds. Other possible causes include fair skin, family history of skin cancer, excessive or chronic sun exposure and sunburns. Certain medications and medical conditions can also increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
The main risk factor for melanoma is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or from other sources such as tanning beds. Other risk factors for melanoma include having light skin, red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes, a history of excessive sun exposure, a weakened immune system, a family history of melanoma, and a personal history of skin burns and a large number of moles or unusual moles. Other risk factors include a history of frequent and intense sunburns, living in a high-altitude area, living in a sunny or warm climate, and use of certain types of drugs that make the skin more sensitive to the sun.
Skin cancer, particularly melanoma, can be diagnosed through a physical examination by a doctor. During the examination, the doctor will look at the size, color, and texture of any suspicious moles or lesions on the skin. Additionally, a doctor may take a biopsy of the area to look closely at the cells and determine if they are cancerous or not. In some cases, imaging tests such as CT scans or ultrasounds may be used to detect anything suspicious deeper in the skin.
The three main subtypes of melanoma are Superficial Spreading Melanoma (SSM), Nodular Melanoma (NM) and Acral Lentiginous Melanoma (ALM).
Superficial Spreading Melanoma (SSM): This is the most common type of melanoma, accounting for 70% of all cases. It often appears on areas of the body that are commonly exposed to the sun, such as the back, arms and legs, and typically grows outwards in an amoeba-like shape. It can also start as a flat, lightly pigmented spot with uneven color, known as a macule.
Nodular Melanoma (NM): This type of melanoma is the second most common, accounting for 15-20% of cases. It usually appears as a raised lump, and often begins with a dark color. Unlike SSM, it does not usually have a flat portion.
Acral Lentiginous Melanoma (ALM): This is the rarest form of melanoma, occurring in less than 10% of cases and usually found on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It is usually pigmented and may have a shiny or waxy texture. ALM is often misdiagnosed, making it important to have any suspicious spots evaluated by a medical professional.
The treatment options for skin cancer (melanoma) vary depending on the stage the melanoma is in.
For earlier stages, surgery is often a viable option. During the surgery, the melanoma will be removed and the surrounding tissue may also be removed to ensure all cancer cells have been eliminated.
If the melanoma has spread, radiation therapy may be used to shrink the tumor or stop its growth. Chemotherapy may also be used to target cancer cells. It can be used alone or in combination with radiation therapy.
In some cases, immunotherapy can be an effective treatment. This type of treatment works to activate the body’s immune system to help fight the cancer.
Targeted therapy is a newer treatment option for melanoma. It works to block specific steps in the cancer cell’s growth and reproduction.
The treatment options for melanoma should be discussed with a doctor or oncologist to determine the best course of action for each individual.
- Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors.
- Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and reapply every two hours, or as recommended by the instructions on the bottle.
- Seek shade and stay out of direct sunlight during the peak hours of 10 am and 4 pm.
- Limit the amount of time spent in tanning beds.
- Examine your skin regularly, using the ABCDE method to check for suspicious moles and other marks.
- Have regular skin cancer screenings with a doctor.
Yes, there are gender-specific differences in the presentation and management of skin cancer (melanoma). Men are more likely to develop melanomas, whereas women are more likely to develop non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Men are more likely to present with melanomas on the trunk or head and neck, whereas women are more likely to present with melanomas on the lower extremities. In addition, men are more likely to be diagnosed with thicker melanomas, which is associated with a poorer prognosis. Lastly, women are more likely to undergo surveillance or preventive treatments for melanoma, whereas men are more likely to receive curative treatments.
Good nutrition plays an important role in the prevention and management of skin cancer (melanoma). Eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and limiting processed and sugary foods, can help lower your risk of developing skin cancer. Eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods can help boost your immune system and support healing. Foods with beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and selenium, such as broccoli, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, and squash, are beneficial for overall health and may help reduce your risk of skin cancer. Additionally, eating fish and/or taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements may also be beneficial.
In addition to a healthy diet, adequate hydration is important for skin health. Drinking plenty of water and other fluids helps keep skin cells healthy and can help the body fight off infection. It is also important to protect yourself from the sun and other sources of ultraviolet radiation, such as tanning beds. Wearing sunscreen, protective clothing, and hats when outdoors can help reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Several studies have suggested that physical activity can help to reduce the risk of developing melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer. It has been suggested that physical activity helps to improve the body’s natural defense system, which helps to protect against the damaging UV rays that can increase the risk of skin cancer. Additionally, physical activity has been linked to increased levels of antioxidants, which help to fight the free radicals that can contribute to the development of skin cancer. Therefore, regular physical activity may help to reduce the risk of developing melanoma, as well as other types of skin cancer.