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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.

 

 

 

PREVENTION

 

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

sun-damaged cells.

 

 

 

 

 

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