11 July 2009

Melanoma - what is that?

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Ryan ankle had a small spot that looked different. It was purple and white. That spot was growing because a melanocyte had grown a cancerous tumor. He was informed by his personal physician that he had a melanoma.

Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin. Melanin gives dark or tan color to the skin. But, when one of these cells gets out of control, it can produce one of the most dangerous cancers known. And more than 50,1013 people are told that they have melanoma every year just inside the USA.

Causes of Malignant Melanoma

The most common cause of melanoma known is over exposure to ultraviolet rays. When melanoma was first studied, it was found that people who labored out of doors were those who tended to show up with melanoma. Furthermore, people who had gotten a sunburn causing blisters were at risk to get a malignant melanoma.

People with fair skin are much more likely to get melanoma. This may be due to the fact that they are more likely to get skin damage by sun exposure. However, this is not a hard and fast fact.

Those who have lots of nevi (moles) are more likely to get melanoma, particularly those who have more than 50. Also, those with a particular type of mole called a dysplastic nevus are at higher risk.

Some people have had other skin cancers successfully treated including squamous cell carcinoma. Those people are more likely to get melanoma.

If you have had other family members that had malignant melanoma, then you are more likely to get a malignant melanoma as well.

Finally, those who have a problem with their immune system get malignant melanomas more often. Whether a person has AIDS, an organ transplant needing medications to curtail the immune system or others using those medications, that person will have a higher risk.

There was one case that showed the role of genetics in malignant melanoma. A man who was a chimera got malignant melanoma. A chimera is someone who has different parts of the body having two different sets of DNA. This apparently happens when twins are formed and somehow join into one body. This man had large metastatic lumps of malignant melanoma tumors on one side of his body and none at all on the other!

How to Identify a Melanoma

The only way to be sure whether a bump on your skin is a malignant melanoma or not is to have your doctor take it off and get it studied by a pathologist. However, there are some ways to know if you should be suspicious of one of those lumps or bumps.

Irregular Border - A malignant melanoma will typically have an uneven border. The usual mole has a sharp border. You can point to any spot on your skin and say for sure whether it is part of the mole or not. This is not the case with malignant melanoma.

Assymetric Shape - The malignant melanoma lesions typically have two halves that are not the same.

Different Color - Melanomas often will have different parts of the tumor that have different colors.

Size - most melanomas are larger than other moles. And they also tend to grow and may bleed or itch.

If you have a supicious lesion that you are not sure about, get it checked by your doctor early. Those who have them removed early have a much better chance of survival. Particularly when the lump is still tiny.

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