What Is Skin Cancer/Melanoma?
Skin cancer, also known as melanoma, is fortunately a rare type of cancer that begins in the skin and can spread to other organs in the body. It can be extremely serious and so if you suspect you may have a melanoma you should contact your doctor as soon as possible. The most obvious sign of melanoma is when a mole appears on your body or an existing one starts to change.
Fortunately, Spain has one of Europe's lowest melanoma incidence and mortality rates. However, the number of cases is rising quite quickly so it is important that precautions are taken. The highest incidence levels are found in Tarragona for men (6.81%) and Gerona for women (8.24%) and lowest in the Canary Islands and Zaragoza (3.55% and 4.27% for women and men, respectively). The good news is that Spain has excellent recovery rates if melanoma is caught early.
What Are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?
The first sign that you may be at risk of a melanoma is if you spot a new mole on your body or an existing mole seems to change appearance. Your normal mole will be all one colour and round or oval in shape. It is unlikely to be any larger than 6mm, whereas melanomas are irregular in shape, may be multi-coloured and will quite often be larger. A melanoma may well bleed or be itchy.
The ABCDE method of checking for a melanoma
- A = asymmetrical – melanomas are irregular in shape.
- B = border – melanomas will have a notched or ragged border whereas a normal mole will not.
- C = colours – melanomas are multi-coloured not a single colour.
- D = diameter – melanomas are larger than 6mm in diameter, normal moles are smaller.
- E = enlargement or evolution – your melanoma will have altering characteristics and size over time
Melanoma can occur anywhere on your body, but moles are most frequently found on the back, legs, arms and face. They can also develop under one of your finger or toenails.
Causes and Risk Factors for Skin Cancer
While no one knows what exactly causes melanoma, it is widely thought that the majority of cases are closely linked to exposure to sunlight and the effects of ultraviolet (UV) light on the skin. Sunlight contains UV light that can affect the skin. Both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) can damage skin over a period of time, which make it possible for skin cancers to grow.
Research has also suggested that exposure to artificial sources of light, such as sunlamps and tanning beds, can also increase the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer. However, even if you never use artificial tanning techniques and you avoid direct sunlight you may still be at risk. Some melanomas also appear on skin that is rarely exposed to UV light.
Why You May Be More at Risk
- You have a family member who has had melanoma
- You have pale skin and you tend to burn rather than tan
- You have blue eyes
- You have red or blonde hair
- You have a large number of moles
- You are very freckly
- You are older
- You have an existing condition that suppresses your immune system, such as HIV or you are taking medicines that suppress your immune system (immunosuppressants)
What Are the Different Forms of Skin Cancer?
There are a number of different types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is very common and is slow growing. It can be cured if treated early enough and tends to remain localised. If BCCs remain untreated they can become aggressive and spread deeper into the layers of the skin and sometimes to the bones.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a cancer of the keratinocyte cells in the outer layer of the skin. Fortunately, the majority of people who are treated for SCC make a full recovery after simple treatment. SCC is slow-growing and only spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.
Malignant melanoma is a less common type of skin cancer. It grows quickly and needs to be treated early.
Other rarer types of non-melanoma skin cancer include Merkel cell carcinoma, Kaposi's sarcoma, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma of the skin, and sarcoma.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you are suspicious of a mole you need to see your doctor immediately. Your doctor will examine you and usually refer you to a specialist in skin conditions (dermatologist) or a specialist plastic surgeon if they think you have melanoma. Suspicious moles are usually surgically removed a biopsy is carried out. You may then also have a sentinel node biopsy to check whether melanoma has spread elsewhere in your body.
The main treatment for melanoma is surgery. If melanoma isn't diagnosed until an advanced stage, treatment will try to slow the spread of the cancer and reduce any symptoms you may have, through chemotherapy for example.
Ways to Prevent Melanoma
- Avoid overexposure to UV light.
- Use sunscreen
- Dress sensibly in the sun
- Avoid sunbeds and sunlamps
- Regularly check your moles and freckles
So please make sure that you stay safe in the sun and protect your loved ones from overexposure. Happy Summer!