Melanoma: Risk Factors, Symptoms & Treatment Options

Receiving a diagnosis of melanoma is a nightmare for most patients. After times of uncertainty, you finally know what it is, but for most diagnosed patients, it is just the beginning of more uncertain times. After the diagnosis, you’ll get more and more tests, and, if possible, you have to start treatment immediately. Even though only 1% of skin cancer patients are diagnosed with this type of skin cancer, it is crucial to detect it in time. It causes the most skin cancer deaths annually and is the most common cancer in young adults – mainly women under 30. To make matters worse, this form of cancer is on the rise, so make sure you know what you’re looking for!

Zoomed-in photograph of possible melanoma. Skin cancer in birthmarks.

What Is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs in cells that make melanin – also called melanocytes. Melanin is the (dark) pigment that gives the skin its color. Skin cancer is the most diagnosed form, and melanoma is the rarest but most invasive form of skin cancer. It grows fast and can spread to every organ, lymph node, and/or body tissue. Although melanoma means black tumor, this type of cancer appears in different colors, like brown, pink, red, or even skin-colored.

Cause & Risk Factors of Melanoma

This type of cancer develops when something malfunctions in the melanocytes. Healthy skin production is a controlled process. New cells push out older cells, which die and fall off. Damaged new cells grow out of control and may form a melanoma. In 86% of the cases, (solar) UV light is the cause as this can (severely) damage new melanocytes. Anyone can get melanoma, but some factors increase the risk. These include:

  • Fair (white) skin
  • Personal or family history
  • Regular and easy sunburn
  • Freckles
  • Blond or red hair and blue eyes
  • Excessive sun exposure
  • Living near the equator or in high elevations
  • Using a tanning bed
  • Many moles – especially unusual ones
  • Weakened immune system

Even though the chances are higher if you have a light skin color with blond/red hair and blue eyes, it does not mean that people with a darker skin color cannot get this form of cancer. Continue reading on the next page and discover, among others, how you can recognize melanoma and what you should do next.

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