What is melanoma. Melanoma is described as a form of cancer that is typically formed within the skin, also known as cutaneous melanoma. Scientists have not discovered any specific causes for this disease. It is also found in other various parts of the body such as the vulva, the anus, the esophagus, and even the central nervous system. It is even found in the eye (ocular melanoma), but it is said to perform differently than melanoma of the skin and additional parts of the body. Before diagnosis, patients with melanoma often experience a new mole, usually seeing gradual growth of the mole on different locations of the skin. It is found that at least "9,480 people are expected to die of melanoma, consisting of about 6,280 men and 3,200 females" (American Cancer Society, 2013).
The skin is man's largest organ and is the body's protection and outer covering. It protects the body from injury and infection, to heat and light, to certain chemicals. The skin stores water and fat, regulates body temperature, and helps make vitamin D. In addition to its basic functions, "the skin also acts as a sensor of the environment, sending information to the brain about temperature, pressure and vibration, pain, and touch" (U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 1992.).
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When cancer forms, it usually begins in the outermost layer of the skin, which is called the epidermis. The epidermis is made of mostly flat, scale-like cells called squamous cells. They are formed from the round basal cells which are found in the lowest part of the epidermis. This is the part of the epidermis that produces melanin. How much melanin the skin produces varies and depends on an individual's race and/or ethnicity.
The epidermis is where skin cell growth begins. New cells are formed and divided and then push mature cells up toward the surface of the skin, where they die and flake off. This is the way the skin repairs itself. "New cells grow and multiply in a controlled, orderly manner to replace dying ones" (U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 1992). When the cell growth becomes uncontrolled, a mass of tissue develops. This mass of tissue is called a tumor, and they grow in one of two forms. They can grow in benign, which are a non-cancerous form, or they can develop malignant, which is the unfortunate cancerous form. If a tumor develops benign, then it won't raid nearby tissue nor will it continue to spread to any other parts of the body. The tumor will remain in one place and is rarely a threat to the individual's life. If necessary, surgery may be performed. The benign tissue is not likely to return.
Malignant tumors raid and obliterate nearby tissues and organs. These cells are cancerous and spread into nearby tissues by breaking away from the original tumor and traveling through the blood and lymph systems to other parts of the body. There they can begin forming secondary tumors called metastasis. "When melanoma spreads it most commonly affects a new location in the skin, lymph nodes, lungs, liver, brain or bones" (U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 1992). The secondary tumor retains many of the characteristics of the original melanoma and is called metastatic melanoma to specify that they are part of a single illness and are not new cancers forming in these organs.
Again, scientists do not know exactly what causes melanoma, but a number of studies have been performed to determine certain possible causes and risk factors. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun has been determined to be a factor in melanoma. Increased exposure to UV light by physical surroundings of snow, sand, or water can have ever-lasting effects on the skin leading to melanoma. Race and/or ethnicity play a huge role in developing melanoma as well. "Caucasian people tend to develop melanoma much more frequently than people with more pigmented skin, such as blacks, Hispanics, or Asians. In the U.S, melanoma increased among whites by almost 75% from 1973 to 1988" (U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 1992.) Melanoma tends to be found in people who have red or blond hair, fair skin, freckles, blue eyes, and in people who tend to sunburn easily but rarely tan. Fair-skinned people who live close to the Equator are also at big risk for melanoma. This is because in this particular region of the world, UV radiation exposure is the maximum. The risk for melanoma is higher than average for people who were relentlessly sunburned as children. The risk for melanoma is also much more likely in people with xeroderma pigmentosum, which is a rare genetic disease where the skin and eyes are tremendously sensitive to light (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1992.)
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If UV radiation is the greatest risk factor for developing melanoma, then obviously prevention of the illness should be to reduce explicit exposure to UV radiation. Harmful effects of this cancer begin in childhood and present itself well into adulthood. Severe exposure to the sun and harmful UV radiation without skin protection in early childhood and adolescent years increases the risk for developing melanoma later on in adult life. People can greatly reduce their risk of sunburn and strong UV radiation by avoiding the sun, especially if their shadow is shorter than they are. People can also wear protective clothing from the sun, such as hats, scarves, sunshades, long-sleeves. Wearing a protective sunscreen also greatly reduces the likelihood of developing melanoma. Avoiding sun-tanning stations when the skin doesn't tan but only slightly "bums" is a great melanoma-reducing strategy. Artificial UV radiation is just as harmful as the real UV radiation the sun gives. People should also be mindful of the medication they take. Certain antibiotics, antidepressants, and treatments given to cancer patients and organ transplant patients can make skin especially sensitive to the light and to the sun's UV radiation.
Detection of melanoma should be sought early-on so that the illness can be treated successfully and cured. Melanoma can begin in an existing mole or as a new, mole-like growth. Moles that have or that develop characteristics of melanoma should be examined by a physician as soon as they are noticed (U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 1992). Noticeable increase in the size of a mole can be a sign of melanoma. Melanoma tends to have a variety of colors as well. Red, white, blue, and sometimes black or dark brown colors within a single mole could be a sign of melanoma. An abnormal surface and/or irregular border on a mole is also a significant sign of melanoma, especially if the mole has an unusual hard or lumpy texture. If the skin around the mole is abnormal, has an unusual sensation such as pain or itchiness, or if the skin has new pigmented spots, it could be a sign of melanoma.
After melanoma is diagnosed, more tests are needed to be performed so that the physician can determine the stage of the disease. "Dr. Wallace Clark, Jr., of The University of Pennsylvania Medical School, classified melanoma according to the deepest layer of skin they had invaded" (U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 1992). He classified melanoma into five levels. Level One is where the cancer only grows on epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin. Level Two is where melanoma reaches into the papillary dermis. Level Three stage of melanoma is where the cancer plummets to the bottom of the papillary dermis region of the skin. Level Four of melanoma is where the disease has invaded the lower part of the dermis, or the reticular dermis. Finally Level Five, possibly the worst of the levels, is where the cancer has penetrated through the layers of the skin into the underlying tissue. Once the cancer has spread there, the soft organs of the body are now vulnerable.
Treatment for melanoma varies and depends on the stage of the growth of the disease. It also depends on an individual's age and general health. Surgery, chemotherapy, biological therapy and radiation therapy are a few options that people with melanoma have. "About 95% of patients with melanoma are treated with surgery" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.) If melanoma is thin and has not spread past the first level of growth, then surgery is usually the appropriate option of treatment for the patient. Sometimes when surgery is performed then the disease can be cured one shot. Other times, additional treatment will be needed, especially if the melanoma had grown past the first level. Chemotherapy is then introduced to the patient. There are benefits of chemotherapy treatment for patients who have a higher likelihood of disease recurrence. Chemotherapy is useful because it is also kills undetectable cancer cells that may still linger within the body post- surgery. Biological surgery also called biotherapy or immunotherapy is an essential cancer treatment that is based on the knowledge and tools of modern molecular biology, immunology, and genetics. This type of surgery works either directly or indirectly within a patient to fight the cancer. Radiation therapy is another type of treatment to melanoma. Radiation therapy is only necessary when the cancer cannot be removed successfully by the physician. It is used to target the disease when it spreads to the lung, gastrointestinal tract, bone, or brain. Radiation helps provide relief from pain of the symptoms. Patients with melanoma that underwent treatment should be go back to their physicians for follow-up care. They should follow their physician's orders and care and monitor their own skin.
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Melanoma is a malignant cancer that starts small and ends big. It can attack a number of various organs within the human body and can cause severe pain and suffering for its victim. It should be treated as a serious disease. People with certain skin tones and skin diseases should be wary and mindful of melanoma and continue to take precaution, as to not risk developing the disease, as well as other diseases so they can go on to live long, healthy lives.