Melanoma Skin Cancer
What is melanoma skin cancer?
Melanoma, sometimes identified as malignant melanoma, is a rare and serious form of skin cancer. Melanoma can be very serious since it can stretch to other parts of the body (this process is known as metastasis). Melanoma accounts for around 10 percent of skin cancer cases, but it is responsible for more deaths than any other form of skin cancer and around 2,000 people in England and Wales die every year from malignant melanoma. Melanoma happens when cells called melanocytes become cancerous.
What causes melanoma skin cancer?
The main cause of melanoma is UV (ultraviolet) light and over exposure to ultraviolet light increases your risk of developing malignant melanoma. Some people are more likely to develop melanoma than others. These groups include:
- People with fair skin (this is because they burn easily)
- People with moles
- People with family history of melanoma
Getting sunburn, using sunbeds and not using sunscreen are also major causes of melanoma. The number of people diagnosed with melanoma has increased by four times in the last thirty years, which is largely due to the new popularity of sunbeds and sunbathing without sunscreen.
Symptoms of melanoma skin cancer
Symptoms to look out for include moles that:
- Change in shape
- Increase in size
- Change in colour
- Become itchy or painful
- Become crusty
- Look swollen
If you notice any changes in your moles you should see your GP immediately.
How is melanoma skin cancer diagnosed?
Your GP will examine you and ask you a series of questions. If your GP suspects that you may have a cancerous mole, it should be removed at a specialist clinic so that it can be analysed under a microscope. This is known as an excision biopsy. After the mole has been removed further treatment may be required, which may involve having more tissue removed. If you have a deep melanoma there is a higher chance that the cancer will have spread. Your doctor will conduct blood tests and a chest X-ray but if you have symptoms that need investigating you may be advised to have a CT or MRI scan.
How is melanoma skin cancer treated?
Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer. Stage 1, 2 and 3 melanomas can be treated using surgery to remove the cancerous mole, but surgery may be required to remove lymph nodes in the case of stage 2 and 3 cancer. Stage 4 cancer, which means that the cancer is now to be found in other areas of the body, is very difficult to cure but may be treated using radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
What is the outlook for melanoma skin cancer?
The outlook for melanoma is positive if the cancer is diagnosed during the early stages, however, if it is not diagnosed until an advanced stage the outlook is not very positive.
Living with melanoma skin cancer
Living with melanoma skin cancer can be very difficult and it may take you a long time to comprehend that you have cancer. You will be cared for by a multi-disciplinary team but if you need further support, information and advice, or you want to talk to somebody without seeing them face to face, you can contact one of the UK cancer charities.