The short answer is that it’s the deadliest form of skin cancer and it affects everybody—it doesn’t discriminate by age, race or gender.
WHAT IS MELANOMA?
Melanoma is usually, but not always, a cancer of the skin. It begins in melanocytes—the cells that produce the pigment melanin that colors the skin, hair and eyes. Melanocytes also form moles, where melanoma often develops. Having moles can be a risk factor for melanoma, but it’s important to remember that most moles do not become melanoma. Learn more here.
Unlike other cancers, melanoma can often be seen on the skin, making it easier to detect in its early stages. If left undetected, however, melanoma can spread to distant sites or distant organs. Once melanoma has spread to other parts of the body (known as stage IV), it is referred to as metastatic melanoma, and is very difficult to treat. In its later stages, melanoma most commonly spreads to the liver, lungs, bones and brain; at this point, the prognosis is very poor.
WHAT CAUSES MELANOMA?
Research suggests that approximately 90% of melanoma cases can be linked to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from natural or artificial sources, such as sunlight and indoor tanning beds. However, since melanoma can occur in all melanocytes throughout the body, even those that are never exposed to the sun, UV light cannot be solely responsible for a diagnosis, especially mucosal and ocular melanoma cases. Current research points to a combination of family history, genetics and environmental factors that are also to blame.
WHO IS AT RISK?
You may be at a higher risk for developing melanoma if you have at least 5 of the criteria below. Talk to family members and your doctor about whether you are at an increased risk and the steps you can take to prevent melanoma.
- Fair skin, light hair color, light eye color: Light skin, blonde or red hair, and blue eyes provide less protection against damaging UV rays; however, having dark skin, hair and eyes does not eliminate your risk
- Tanning bed use: Tanning bed use before the age of 30 increases your risk of melanoma by 75 percent. Learn more about why tanning is dangerous.
- Exposure to UV radiation: Whether it’s from natural or artificial sources, limiting your UV exposure will help decrease your risk of getting melanoma
- Family history of melanoma: If one or more of your immediate family members has been diagnosed, this increases your chance of a diagnosis
- Sunburns at a young age: Just one blistering sunburn at a young age doubles your chances of a diagnosis
- High number of moles: Individuals with 50+ moles have an increased risk
- Previous melanoma diagnosis: A previous diagnosis increases your risk of a recurrence
- Weakened immune system: Certain cancers and illnesses that weaken your immune system can place you at an increased risk
- Previous non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosis: If you have been diagnosed with basal or squamous cell carcinoma in the past, you are at increased risk
- Age: Melanoma is most common in men over the age of 50 (more common than colon, prostate and lung cancer). Melanoma is the second most common cancer in teens and young adults and is the most common type of cancer for young adults.
The face of melanoma may be more familiar than you think. Don’t wait until it’s too late—be proactive about checking your skin and listening to your body. #GETNAKED. It may save your life. Learn more here.
– S A D Y E E V Y N R E I S H
PHOTO CREDIT: Milou & Olin Photography
SOURCE: All information sourced from the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF). The MRF is the largest independent organization devoted to melanoma and is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. Committed to the support of medical research in finding effective treatments and eventually a cure for melanoma, the MRF also educates patients, caregivers and physicians about the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of melanoma.