Melanoma is not only the most deadly type of cancer of the skin but also the hardest to detect, however if it is recognised and treated early, it is nearly 100% curable. If not, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal.
Melanoma may be less common than other skin cancers, however it is much more dangerous if it is not found early. It causes 75% of deaths related to skin cancer.
Around 12,800 cases of melanoma were diagnosed in 2010 in the UK (around 35 people every day) with incidence rates having more than quadrupled over the last thirty years. Like most cancers, skin cancer risks rise with increasing age and people over 65 being more likely to be diagnosed with late stage melanoma than younger people.
Melanoma is however disproportionately high in younger people, with over a third of all cases occurring in people under 55. More than two young adults (aged 15-34) are diagnosed EVERY day, making this the most common cancer in this age group.
The seven point checklist for suspected melanoma:
Sunburn and Melanoma
Although you don’t have to burn to contract melanoma, there is increasing evidence that excessive sun exposure, and particularly sunburn, when aged under 15 is a major risk factor for skin cancer in later life. Protection of the skin of children and adolescents is therefore particularly important. Because of this, sunburn should be avoided by individuals of ALL ages.
Naevi (Larger/irregular moles): People with a strong family history of melanoma or who have a high number of large moles are at very high risk. Fortunately, very few people fall into this category. Large numbers of benign and dysplastic naevi are highly significant risk factors, with risk directly proportional to the number of naevi.
Skin type: Six skin types have been identified according to the ability of the skin to tan. People with skin types 1 and 2 are at greatest risk of developing malignant Melanoma, whereas people with naturally occurring brown or black skin have a much lower risk as the presence of high amounts of melanin in their skin acts as a shield, blocking the transmission of UV radiation.
Cause: All cancers are caused by damage to the DNA inside cells. This can be inherited in the form of genetic mutations, but most commonly, it builds up over a lifetime and is caused by environmental influences. DNA damage causes the cell to grow out of control, leading to a tumor. Melanoma is usually caused by damage from UV light from the sun, however sunbeds can also be a determining factor.