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Melanoma: A Must Read

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can be deadly. Although less common than some other types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most life threatening. It begins in the melanocytes, the cells of the skin that produce its color. This is commonly seen in changes in moles on the skin. Although serious, melanoma can be treated if detected early.

Melanoma Statistics

•   Melanoma is responsible for 79% of all skin cancer deaths.
•   It is the least common form of skin cancer, yet it is the deadliest.
•   Melanoma is becoming one of the most common cancers detected in young adults under the age of thirty.
•   Its occurrence has increased significantly in the last thirty years.
•   It is more common in men than in women.
•   People with light complexions are at greater risk of developing melanoma.
•   The risk of melanoma increases with more sun exposure and the use of tanning beds.
•   People who have moles that change in appearance are at greater risk.
•   If detected before metastasis, the survival rate is 99%.
•   Melanoma has killed over 8,600 people in 2009.


Causes
A common cause of melanoma is frequent sun exposure. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can damage the melanocytes where melanoma begins. The frequent use of tanning beds has a similar effect to a higher degree. People with a history of a bad sunburn that has caused blisters are at increased risk of developing melanoma. A genetic connection has also been associated with melanoma.


Treatment
Treatment for melanoma depends on what stage it is in when detected. A doctor will stage the cancer at diagnosis, depending on its location. Melanoma that is detected in Stage 1 typically involves the initial site of a mole or skin change, which is removed during outpatient surgery. This is the most common and effective treatment at this stage and for Stage 2, which involves not only the skin but also adjacent tissue. Stage 3 means the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes and treatment involves surgery at the site with the removal of affected lymph nodes. Typically, chemotherapy is also administered during this stage. Stage 4 melanoma means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Treatment of Stage 4 has been found to be less successful than Stages 1-3. Stage 4 requires surgical intervention and chemotherapy. Though depending on the amount of metastasis, some people choose comfort measures and end of life care. For all stages of treatment, there are many clinical trials that patients can complete that test new medications and therapies in the treatment of melanoma.
 


Prevention
There are several things people can do to reduce their risk of melanoma. Limit sun exposure, especially in the middle of the day when sunlight is most intense. Wear sunblock year-round with an SPF of 30 to protect against ultraviolet radiation. Wear protective clothing and hats when outdoors. Avoid the use of tanning beds as this causes a significant amount of damage. Check the body frequently for moles and any appearance of changes with a mole. See a doctor regularly to monitor changes in skin condition.


How to Cope
A diagnosis of melanoma is a scary situation not only for the patient, but also for family members and other loved ones. Treatment is a stressful time and coping can be difficult. Local support groups specifically for those diagnosed with melanoma can provide a source of support and help during this difficult time. Often it is important to meet with others to reduce stress, talk about treatments, and hear stories about those who have survived. Some patients choose a different route if the melanoma is in an advanced stage that requires extensive care. Palliative care is what is given to a patient to make them comfortable instead of invasive therapies. Palliative care provides end of life care for patients who want to remain comfortable in the midst of their illness without prolonging treatment. Family can assist by determining where and when a patient can be treated to make them as comfortable as possible.


Melanoma is a frightening diagnosis that can leave people feeling scared and alone. It affects people around the world and has caused thousands of deaths. With proper detection and care of the body risks can be greatly reduced offering hope for a life free from melanoma.

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