Cancer and Melanoma

The word melanoma comes from the Greek words, melas (black) and -oma (tumour). It is a very serious cancer that most often occurs in the skin and less frequently in the eye or in the lining of the nose, mouth, or genitals. Melanoma begins in melanocytes, cells that make a pigment called melanin. Both light- and dark-skinned people have melanin, which gives colour to the skin, hair, and parts of the eye. The skin is the largest organ in the body, so it isn’t surprising that skin cancer is the most common of all cancers.

Melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer, affecting 4% of all cases but causing 79% of skin cancer deaths. The average age of people diagnosed with Melanoma is between 45 and 55, although 25% of cases occur in people under 40. About 10% of all people with melanoma have a family history of melanoma. You are at increased risk of developing melanoma if there is a family history of melanoma in one or more of your first-degree relatives like a parent, child, brother or sister.

The major environmental risk factor for melanoma is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. People who have fair skin that burns or freckles easily need to be especially careful in the sun as protecting yourself against UV overexposure is an important way you can help reduce your risk of developing melanoma. There are two common misconceptions about melanoma. The first is that melanomas develop only in sun-exposed areas of the body. In fact, melanomas can occur in areas not normally exposed to the sun, including the abdomen, genitals, and soles of the feet.

The second misconception is that dark-skinned and Asian people are not at risk for the disease. In fact, one type of melanoma occurs most frequently in African American and Asian populations, developing on the palms, soles, and nail beds. The first sign of melanoma is often a change in the size, shape, or color of an existing mole or the appearance of a new mole. Men most commonly develop melanoma on the trunk, particularly the back, and women on the legs or arms.

Melanoma develops in a manner similar to other cancer types. A cell’s DNA genes, which control cell division and reproduction, become damaged. The damaged genes cause the cell to divide and grow without control or order, eventually becoming a malignant tumor. In the case of melanoma, the damage to the DNA is usually caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and the affected cells are melanocytes, whichproduce the pigment melanin. The first tumor that develops is usually located in the skin.

If not caught, melanoma will grow and spread along the epidermis before penetrating deeper layers of the skin and eventually coming into contact with lymph and blood vessels.

Treatments are available for all people with melanoma. With early detection, survival rates have improved steadily in recent years, and 85% of diagnosed patients have long-term survival after simple tumor surgery. Treatments for intermediate and advanced disease have also made significant progress in recent years. Bibliography http://www. nci. nih. gov/cancertopics/types/melanoma/ http://www. melanomacenter. org.

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