What exactly is melanoma?

There are around 200 forms of cancers based on the tissue or organ where the cancer develops, and these are referred to as primary cancers. Skin cancers begin in the cells of the skin, and melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in a specific type of skin cell.

Skin cancer cells are divided into three categories in the epidermis:

  • Squamous cells are located on the surface of the skin.
  • Basal cells are the cells that make up the foundation of the epidermis
  • Melanocytes are skin cells that produce the deep brown pigment melanin, which is responsible for the colour of the skin. It shields the deep layers of the skin from the sun's rays, and sun exposure promotes melanin production, causing people to tan or darken.

What are the Melanoma risk factors?

When the exact causes of cancer are unknown, certain disorders are recognised as risk factors, which increase the likelihood of acquiring cancer. The presence of risk factors does not guarantee that a person will get cancer, nor does the absence of risk factors promise that a person will not acquire cancer; it only indicates a higher likelihood of acquiring cancer.

  1. UV light : UV radiation, the principal source of which is sunshine, can harm the DNA of skin cells.
  2. Moles: A mole is a noncancerous pigmented tumour, although having too many irregular or big moles increases the risk of melanoma.
  3. Skin color : Melanoma is more prone to occur in those with fair skin tones, light coloured hair, and freckles.
  4. Family history : Melanoma risk is enhanced if one or more first-degree relatives (parent, sibling, or child) has melanoma.
  5. Gender: Melanoma risk varies depending on age; men are more likely than women to develop this cancer type after the age of 50, while women are more likely to develop it before the age of 50.
  6. Medical history : A person who has had melanoma or other skin malignancies in the past is more likely to acquire melanoma again.
  7. Age : Melanoma is the most prevalent cancer in adults under the age of 30, however it is more common in people above the age of 30
  8. Weakened immune systems: Melanoma is more likely to develop in people whose immune systems have been weakened by diseases such as HIV, drugs such as radiation, or medical procedures such as organ transplant.
  9. Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) : It is a rare genetic condition that inhibits the skin's capacity to repair DNA damage, increasing the risk of melanoma and other skin malignancies in those who have it.

Melanoma has the following symptoms:

Melanoma is characterised by the appearance of new spots on the skin or alterations in existing ones. The ABCDE rule describes the signs to look for if you have a mole:

  • A (Asymmetry): One half of the mole or birthmark is distinct from the other.
  • B (Border): The edges of the mole are uneven, ragged, notched, or fuzzy.
  • C (Color): The colour of the mole is not consistent throughout.
  • D (Dimension): The spot is greater than 6 mm in diameter (though it is possible for it to be smaller too sometimes)
  • E (Evolving or Elevating): The mole's size, shape, or colour is changing.

The following are some other red flags:

  • Inflammation that does not go away
  • Pigment spreads from the mole's edge into the surrounding skin.
  • Beyond the mole's boundary, there may be redness or a new swelling.
  • Itchiness, soreness, or pain are examples of changes in sensation.
  • Scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the formation of a lump in the mole are all signs that something is wrong.

Melanoma staging

Most malignancies with tumours are staged using the TNM approach, which is also utilised for melanoma. The TNM method can be used to define the size of the main tumour (T), the number of malignant lymph nodes (N), and the extent to which the skin cancer has migrated to another section of the body (M).

Melanoma is divided into four stages, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread, with stage 1 being the earliest and stage 4 being the most advanced. In the following sections, the phases of melanoma are examined in length, as well as the treatment options for each stage.

The four primary forms of melanomas are mentioned below in decreasing order of occurrence, with the first being the most common and the last being the rarest.

  • Superficial spreading melanoma
  • Acral lentiginous melanoma
  • Nodular melanoma
  • Lentigo maligna melanoma

Treatment options include:

  • Surgery
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted Therapy Chemotherapy