Melanoma; Cancer of the Skin

Melanoma is a cancer of the skin that is malignant and can be found prominently on the skin but can also be found in the bowel and even the eye. Melanoma is the rarest of skin cancers but it causes the most skin cancer related deaths. Melanoma is caused by the uncontrolled growth of pigment cells known as melanocytes. The only cure for melanoma is to surgically remove the tumor before it grows to a size of 1mm. There are close to 160,000 new cases of melanoma worldwide each and every year and according to the World Health Organization there are approximately 48,000 deaths related to melanoma each year as well. 75 percent of all deaths from skin cancer are associated to malignant melanoma. Treatment for melanoma includes the aforementioned surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and even radiation therapy. It is recommended by doctors that anyone who has a family history of melanoma should see a dermatologist at least once a year to make sure they are not developing melanoma themselves.

The first case of melanoma did not come until the 1960s; at least the oldest known case was discovered until the 1960s. Scientists were working on a group of mummies when they noticed deformities in their skin. It was determined that these mummies did have some type of malignant melanoma. The mummies dated back at least 2,400 years. The first operation related to melanoma occurred in 1787 by a man named John Hunter. The tumor that was removed from the skin was preserved in the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The mass was not examined until the year of 1968. Upon examination and testing it was concluded that the mass was in fact a form of metastatic melanoma.

There is a mnemonic device to best remember the signs and symptoms of melanoma. It is “ABCDE.”

A: asymmetrical skin lesion

B: border of the lesion is irregular

C: color: melanomas usually have multiple colors

D: diameter: moles greater than 5mm are more likely to be melanomas than smaller ones

E: evolution: the evolution or change of a mole or lesion may be a hint that the lesion is becoming malignant. Elevation: the mole is raised or elevated above the skin.

There are seven types of melanoma. They are superficial spreading melanoma, nodular melanoma, acral lentiginous melanoma, lentigo maligna melanoma, clear cell sarcoma, mucosal melanoma and uveal melanoma. As with all types of cancers, especially malignant ones, there are four stages of the disease that melanoma can be active in. The stages are Stage I, Stage II, Stage III and Stage IV. Each different stage has sublevels that the melanoma can develop in.

Patients suffering from melanoma can feel a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, an uncomfortable feeling and a general weakness throughout the body. Melanoma, like all other cancers, cannot be completely cured but it can be kept under control with radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. As with all chemotherapy treatments a feeling of fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, bowel problems and weight loss can occur.

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