Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer, and it’s on the rise. While the survival rate for melanoma is high when caught early, it drops significantly when the cancer has spread to other body parts. The 5-year survival rate for stage IV melanoma is just 15-20 percent.
So, what are your chances of surviving melanoma? This post is a brief overview of melanoma and what to expect after your diagnosis.
What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a skin cancer type that occurs when the body produces too much melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. It can develop in any part of the body, but it is most commonly found on the face, neck, chest, or back.
Though melanoma accounts for less than 5 percent of all skin cancer cases, it is responsible for the majority of skin cancer deaths. In fact, in 2018, 60,712 people all over the globe died from melanoma.
Stages of Melanoma
Once melanoma is diagnosed, your doctor will stage cancer to determine how far it has spread. There are four main stages of melanoma:
Stage 0: Cancer stays to the top layer of the skin and has not spread.
Stage I: Cancer has spread to the second layer of skin but is still less than 2mm thick.
Stage II: The cancer is more than 2mm thick but has not spread to the lymph nodes or other organs.
Stage III: It has spread to the lymph nodes but not to other organs.
Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other organs, such as the liver or lungs.
Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma
The early signs of melanoma are usually easy to spot. Look for changes in the size, shape, or color of a mole or any new moles on your body.
If you have a mole that changes or notices any new moles, it’s essential to see a doctor immediately. Early detection is the best way to the successful treatment of melanoma.
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- A mole that bleeds or oozes
- A mole that is painful or itchy
What Causes Melanoma?
UV light exposure is the leading cause of melanoma. The UV rays damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to cancer development. People who have a history of sunburns are at an increased risk for melanoma, as are those who have had exposure to UV light from tanning beds or lamps.
People with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blond hair are more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV light, but melanoma can occur in people of all skin types. Having a large number of moles or abnormal moles also increases your risk.
Even if you don’t spend a lot of time in the sun, you’re still exposed to UV rays. These harmful rays can penetrate clouds and glass, so it’s essential to take precautions even on cloudy days or when you’re indoors.
How Is Melanoma Diagnosed?
Similar to minor skin problems, like pyogenic granuloma (learn more on this page), lipoma, etc., doctors will often diagnose melanoma by performing a physical exam. Your doctor will check for any new or changing moles on your body and look for any other signs of skin cancer.
If your doctor suspects you have melanoma, they will likely perform a biopsy. The doctors will remove all or part of the suspicious mole during a biopsy. They will send the removed tissue to a laboratory, where it will be examined under a microscope.
If the biopsy reveals that you have melanoma, your doctor will order additional tests to determine how far the cancer has spread, including blood tests, x-rays, MRI scans, or PET scans.
How Is Melanoma Treated?
Melanoma treatment depends on the stage of cancer, its location, and overall health. Like other skin problems (such as seborrheic keratosis), surgery is the most common treatment for melanoma. The surgery aims to eliminate the cancerous cells while sparing as much healthy tissue as possible.
In some cases, a tiny section of skin around the tumor may also be removed to reduce the risk of cancer returning. This is called a wide local excision. If the cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes, they will also be removed during surgery.
After the procedure, you will likely need to have regular check-ups with your doctor to make sure the cancer doesn’t return. These check-ups may include skin exams, blood tests, and an MRI or CT scan.
If the melanoma has spread to other organs, you may also need radiation or chemotherapy treatments. These treatments can help kill cancerous cells and shrink tumors. That’s why it’s crucial to choose a reputable and experienced surgery clinic, such as Toronto Minor Surgery Center (TMSC), that offers a wide range of treatments for all skin problems. Visit their website for melanoma surgery, seborrheic keratosis removal, and other skin problems.
New treatments are constantly being developed and tested in clinical trials, so there is hope for even those with the most advanced disease. But keep in mind that melanoma can come back after it has been treated.
How to Prevent Melanoma
The best and most effective way to prevent melanoma is to avoid exposure to UV light. Below are ways how to avoid it:
- If under the sun, wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and hats.
- Be sure to also use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply it every two hours, especially if sweating or swimming.
- You can also protect yourself from UV light by avoiding tanning beds and sunlamps. These devices emit harmful UV rays that can damage your skin and increase your risk of melanoma.
- If you observe changes in your skin, be sure to see a doctor right away.
What Are Your Chances of Living With Melanoma?
While melanoma is a serious disease, most people diagnosed with the condition can expect to live long and healthy lives.
The five-year survival rate for people with Stage 0, Stage I, and II melanoma is about 98.4%. However, the survival rate decreases to 63.6% for those with Stage III melanoma and 22.5% for those with Stage IV melanoma.
There are treatments available for all stages of melanoma, but it is still best to catch it early. That’s why it’s vital to perform regular self-exams and to see a doctor right away if you notice any changes in your skin.
The Bottom Line
While melanoma is a serious disease, most people diagnosed with the condition can expect to live long and healthy lives. With early detection and treatment, many individuals with melanoma will lead normal, productive lives.
If you see any changes or have any concerns about your skin, be sure to see a doctor right away. Make sure to choose a reputable and experienced center for minor surgery to provide you with the best care possible.