Melanoma is the most prevalent form of skin cancer and skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the Western world. It starts in skin cells called melanocytes.
Melanocytes are situated under the skin, which is made up of two strata: the epidermis on the outside and the dermis below that. To be accurate, melanocytes are in the lowest levels of the epidermis, but not actually in the dermis.
These cells produce melanin, which affects the epidermis’ pigmentation, both natural skin colour and because of exposure to the sun as in tanning.
Occasionally, a group of near-by melanocytes combine with a little local tissue to form a mole (also called a naevus; plural naevi, which also includes ‘birth marks)). The typical individual has between ten and forty moles, which usually appear before the fortieth birthday. They often fade or disappear with age.
Moles and Skincare
Moles are non-malignant (non-cancerous) and can be flat or raised in contour and almost any colour. Usually, they are slightly darker than one’s natural skin colour. Dark skinned individuals are likely to have more moles.
Cancer starts in cells where the regular cycle of decay and replacement by regeneration is no longer working correctly. Under these circumstances, cells do not always die when they should and new cells are reproducing unnecessarily.
This, in turn, creates a growth (also called a tumour), which can be either benign or malignant (i.e. cancerous or non-cancerous).
Benign tumours can be surgically removed and seldom come back. They do not spread or affect surrounding tissue.
Malignant tumours are cancerous and can have an effect on surrounding tissue and organs. This is melanoma. In these cases, cancerous cells can break away from the primary tumour and affect other organs or enter the blood stream (lymphatic system), whereby it can spread to other parts of the body (metastasis) quite quickly. The incidence of metastasis is a deciding issue in how a physician deals with cancer.
Melanoma occurs when melanocytes become malignant. It can happen at any age, but the likelihood rise with age. Fair-skinned individuals are more likely to develop it than dark-skinned people. In fair-skinned races, men tend to get it on the torso and neck, whereas women get it on their calves (lower legs).
Dark-skinned people seldom suffer from melanoma, but if they do, it is normally under the finger and toe nails or on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands. When cancerous cells from melanoma enter the lymphatic system and affect other organs, it is still attributed to melanoma. For example, if the liver becomes affected by cancerous cells from melanoma, it is called metastatic melanoma, not liver cancer.
ABCD of Melanoma Skin Care
Often, the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, colour, or texture of an existing mole, although it often first manifests itself with a new mole or moles. We cannot rely on self-diagnosis. So, always seek professional advice if you have any problems relating to your skin. However, it is wise to remember ‘The ABCD of Melanoma’, which goes thus:
Asymmetry: the shape of one side of the mole is not the same as the other half.
Border: the border or edges of the mole are indistinct, or the colouration ‘leaks’ into the surrounding skin.
Colouration: the mole is not consistently of one colour, although it is not so vital what that colour is.
Diameter: there is a modification in size or a new mole grows bigger than 5mm in size.
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