MELANOMA -SKIN CANCER - VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE
WHAT IS A MELANOMA?
Melanoma is essentially skin cancer. If detected early enough, it can be cured
in ninety-five percent of the cases. However, it can also be fatal if allowed
to run its course. Melanomas can be almost invisible in some cases, so a
cursory examination is not effective in some cases. Hidden melanomas are,
fortunately, relatively rare.
All melanomas are formed from cells that produce pigment. These are called
melanocytes. So the cancer can develop wherever there is pigmentation in the
body. Hidden melanomas can occur in difficult to detect parts of the body,
hence the need to do a thorough check annually.
An example of an unusual location where a hidden melanoma can develop is the
eye (intraocular melanoma). So the eyes should be included in the check-up. An
effective preventative would be to use high quality sunglasses with one-hundred
percent UV protection. If you have prescription glasses, photochromic lenses
with UV protection are preferable.
It is useful to be aware that melanomas can also develop in areas that are not
exposed to sun rays. These include the palms of the hands, the soles of the
feet, in-between toes, under the nails, and on the scalp! Even harder to detect
areas that the cancer can develop in are the genitalia, anus, and mucosal
lining of the mouth.
A potentially dangerous phenomenon is a “halo nevus”. This manifests as a white
halo around a mole or brown spot. It appears that the mole or spot is
shrinking, but a more lethal process is underway - the melanoma is actually
digging deeper leaving less of itself on the surface.
HOW TO DETECT A MELANOMA
It is of vital importance that you do a body skin check every month, looking
for brown spots in all the areas outlined above. What you should also be
looking for are new spots or moles, or any changes to existing ones over a time
period of a few months. Potentially dangerous growths are those that have
asymmetrical ragged borders, or are six millimeters or more in diameter.
Another danger signal is when growths disappear and reappear, or growths that
bleed easily. Melanomas under the nails usually occur in the thumbs and large
toes, and appear as black or brown coloured streaks.
Possible symptoms of hidden melanomas, such as in the mouth and esophagus, are
inexplicable bleeding from the nose, genitalia or urinary tract, throat pain
and difficulty swallowing, and a tightness in the esophageal area.
In addition to your personal monthly skin check, it is strongly recommended
that you have an annual examination conducted by a qualified dermatologist.
HIGH RISK CANDIDATES
Melanomas can develop in anybody, but the following are at a higher risk:
Those who have had a previous skin cancer.
Those with a family history of skin cancer.
Those with several abnormal appearing moles (dysplastic nevi).
Fair skinned people with light eyes, who easily sunburn.
Blacks, and dark skinned people, are susceptible to under the nail melanomas (subungual), and mucosal melanoma.
Avoid excessive exposure to the sun, but don’t be obsessive about it. Remember,
sunlight stimulates the formation of vitamin D, which is important for the
body. Conduct frequent checks on yourself, especially if you fall into the high
risk group. And, studies show that if you exercise regularly, you gain
protection from melanoma. Researchers think that this might be because exercise
enhances a process called UVB-induced apoptosis, in which the body kills
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