Explaining Melanoma: Risks, Symptoms, and Common Myths

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops in the cells called melanocytes, which produce melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color. Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, often arises on sun-exposed areas, but can also occur elsewhere that are not typically exposed. Generally, people have many misconceptions regarding this disease. Understanding the risks, symptoms, and dispelling common myths is crucial for early detection and effective treatment. In this article, we delve into the complexities of melanoma to provide clarity and awareness.

Understanding Melanoma:

Melanoma originates in the melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. While it can develop anywhere on the body, melanoma typically occurs on areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, arms, and legs. However, it can also appear on areas not exposed to sunlight, like the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and under the nails.

Risk Factors: Several factors increase the risk of developing melanoma, including:

1. Excessive sun exposure: Extended sun or tanning bed exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a major risk factor.

2. Fair skin: Individuals with fair complexion, light-colored eyes, and freckles are more vulnerable because they have lower melanin levels, which offer some UV protection.

3. Family history: People who have a personal or family history of skin cancer or melanoma are more vulnerable.

4. Weak immune system: Melanoma risk is increased in those with immunocompromised immune systems, such as organ transplant patients.

5. Moles: The risk of melanoma is higher in individuals with several moles or atypical moles (dysplastic nevi).

Symptoms: Early detection of melanoma is crucial for successful treatment. Signs and symptoms of melanoma include:

1. Changes in moles: Look for changes in size, shape, color, or texture of existing moles, or the appearance of new moles.

2. Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half.

3. Border irregularity: The edges of the mole are irregular, blurred, or jagged.

4. Color variation: The mole has uneven coloring, with different shades of brown, black, blue, red, or white.

5. Diameter: Melanomas are typically larger than 6 millimeters in diameter, but they can be smaller.

6. Evolution: Any change in size, shape, color, elevation, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching, or crusting should be evaluated by a dermatologist.

Common Myths: Myths around Melanoma often creates misconceptions about its causes and risks. Some of the common myths are-

1. Only fair-skinned individuals get melanoma: While fair-skinned individuals are at higher risk, people of all skin tones can develop melanoma.

2. Sunscreen completely protects against melanoma: Sunscreen helps reduce the risk, but it does not provide complete protection. It is essential to seek shade, wear protective clothing, and avoid peak sun hours.

3. Melanoma only affects older adults: Melanoma can occur at any age, including in children and young adults.

4. Only moles can turn into melanoma: While some melanomas develop from existing moles, others can arise on seemingly normal skin.

5. Melanoma is only skin deep: Advanced melanoma can spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bones, and brain.

Identifying the risks, symptoms, and dispelling common myths surrounding melanoma is critical for early detection and prevention. Regular skin examinations by a dermatologist, self-examinations at home, and sun-safe practices are essential for maintaining skin health and reducing the risk of melanoma. By increasing awareness and promoting education, we can save lives and reduce the burden of this deadly disease.

By Dr. Shruti Kate – Senior consultant, Medical Oncology, HCG Manavata Cancer Centre, Nashik

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