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What Is Melanoma?

By: Jody Ehrhardt - Updated: 20 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Skin Cancer Melanoma Melanin Skin

Skin cancer is a serious disease that affects an increasing number of the population each year. Of the many forms of skin cancer melanoma is the most serious and the most curable.

What is it?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the cells of the skin responsible for producing melanin. These cells are called melanocytes. Melanin is the pigmentation that is responsible for skin color and for the deep brown coloring found in moles and other skin discolorations.

When these cells change or grow in an abnormal way they promote the development of skin cancer. If an abnormal cells or cancerous growths are detected early then the affected cells can be removed before the cancer becomes fatal. Many factors, such as excessive sun exposure and family history, can increase your risk of developing this disease. To help ensure early detection you need to first determine your personal risk level.

Are You at Risk?

Although everyone is at risk for developing skin cancer, especially melanoma skin cancer, there are certain lifestyle choices and other factors that can make you personally more or less at risk.

The biggest risk factor is excessive sun exposure. Individuals who have exposed their skin to natural sunlight or tanning beds repeatedly for a number of years have a greater risk of developing skin cancer. The same is true for individuals who have experienced more than one severe sunburn in their lifetime, especially if this burn was acquired during childhood. To reduce your risk apply a sunscreen to your exposed skin everyday, wear protective clothing to shade your skin from the sun, limit your exposure to the sun, and never use tanning beds or booths.

A family history of skin cancer can also increase your risk of developing this condition. If an immediate family member, such as your parents, siblings, or children, develop or have been diagnosed with melanoma your chances for developing the disease also increase. If skin cancer runs in your family take steps to protect yourself by getting your skin checked regularly by a doctor or dermatologist.

This increase is also present for individuals who have previously developed and been cured from melanoma. If you have had the disease in the past your chance of re-developing the condition in the future increases.

Finally, the most common factor for determining skin cancer risk is the appearance of moles. Skin moles contain large amounts of the pigment melanin. The more moles you have the greater your chance of developing melanoma. If you have a large number of skin moles check them regularly for changes and see a dermatologist often for a more complete check.

Treatment Options

If you are performing regular skin checks and seeing a dermatologist as recommended there may come a time when you are diagnosed with melanoma. Although the diagnosis is frightening it is good to know that the condition can be cured if detected early and treated properly. Common treatment options for melanoma include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Surgery, or surgical excision, is used to remove the area of infected skin. In this procedure the surgeon or doctor uses a sharp instrument to cut out the abnormal cells and a few of the surrounding healthy ones. By doing so he or she decreases the chances of re-development. These cuts are mostly used on small areas of cancer and leave barely noticeable scars once healing is complete.

For larger areas of melanoma, or sometimes in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy is used to kill the abnormal cells before they grow and spread. In this treatment chemotherapy drugs are given to the patient either once or over a predetermined period of time and the drugs circulate to the affected areas. Once there the chemicals kill the cancerous cells and the healthy cells surrounding the melanoma.

Finally, radiation is a type of cancer treatment that can be used alone or in combination with either of the above treatments. With this treatment a small beam of radiation is focus on the cancerous area where it kills the affected cells.

The type of treatment that you receive will depend on your individual situation, the severity and location of your cancer, and the doctor's preference. No matter which type of melanoma treatment he or she chooses, however, if given soon enough the treatment should result in a total cure.

This excellent cure rate is the reason that you should take steps now to understand melanoma, its causes, and your risks. Save your skin and your health by checking your skin today.

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