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Melanoma: causes, stages and treatment

18 February, 2021 Richa Sharma

This blog features meaning of Melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer along with its causes, and stages. Information on Medically approved treatment and prevention is also provided.

Melanoma is a rare type of skin cancer which is serious in nature. The cancer is caused when melanocytes; pigment producing melanin cells, begin to mutate and divide uncontrollably. This skin cancer is serious due to tendency to spread to other parts of the body which can cause serious illness and death. Pigment cells develop in skin but melanomas are risky in certain areas like chest, back, face or legs. Rarely melanomas can occur in eyes or intestines. Light skin people (Caucasian) are more at risk than darker skin people.

Causes of Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanoma occurs when the pigment producing cells (melanocytes) are damaged at the DNA level and new cells begin to grow uncontrollably. A combination of factors causes melanoma which includes genetic factors, exposure to UV radiation as well as environmental factors. People with a below factors are at high risk of developing melanoma.

  • Tendency to develop freckles or high density of freckles due to exposure to the sun
  • Moles majorly 5 or more atypical moles
  • A type of brown birthmark known as giant congenital melanocytic nevi
  • Skin that does not tan easily and look pale
  • People with light eye colour
  • People with red or light hair
  • high sun exposure if it produces blistering sunburn or sun exposure is intermittent
  • old age people
  • a family history of melanoma
  • People who recently got organ transplant


Stages of Melanoma Cancer:

1. Stage 0 - This is referred to as in situ melanoma. In this stage cancer is present only in the outermost layer of skin.

2. Stage 1 - The cancer increases in size up to 2mm thick. It is contained to a single place and is not spread yet to lymph nodes.

3. Stage 2 - In this stage the cancer is between 1mm to 4mm thick. It may or may not be ulcerated.

4. Stage 3 - This is the stage where it spreads to one or more lymph nodes or to nearest lymphatic channels. Sometimes the original cancer may not be visible. If it is visible it might be approx 4mm thick and ulcerated.

5. Stage 4 - In this stage cancer might be spread to distant lymph nodes or organs like brain, liver or lungs. The situation may worsen and the treatment becomes harder as the stages of cancer advances.

Melanoma is of 4 types depending on the location of its growth

1. Superficial spreading - This appears on the trunks or limbs and the growth is slow. This is most common type of melanoma. Initially the cells tend to grow slowly before spreading across the surface of skin.

2. Nodular - This is most aggressive type of melanoma that appears on the neck, hear or trunk. These have quicker growth than other types and tend to appear reddish or blue-black in colour.

3. Lentigo malinga - This develops in adults due to excessive exposure to sun over several years, especially on the face. Initially it appears as Hutchinson’s freckle resembling a stain on skin and tends to grow slowly. This is the least dangerous type.

4. Acral lentiginous - This appears on palms of the hands, soles of the feet or under the nails and is the rarest kind of melanoma.

Treatments for Melanoma skin cancer

Treatment to melanoma is similar to other cancer like:

1. Chemotherapy - Medication to kill the cancer causing cells

2. Immunotherapy - Medicines that help the immune system to fight cancer

3. Targeted Therapy - Medications that help identify and target particular genes or proteins causing melanoma

Unlike other cancer inside the body it is easier to access the cancerous tissues and remove it completely. Thus, surgery is the done prior to various therapies to remove the cancerous tissue. Surgery not only removes the cancerous tissue but also nearby non-cancerous tissue so that cancer may not develop again.

In case melanoma has spread to large area of skin cells doctors prefer skin graft to remove the cancerous tissues.

Preventing Melanoma Skin Cancer

It is important to prevent the formation of melanoma as the treatment is painful to patient. Also, there is a risk of reoccurrence of the cancerous tissue. Some of the common things to be avoided are:

  • Exposure to sunlight - UV light exposure especially caused during tanning booths are major reasons for melanoma. Reducing the UV radiation exposure by wearing opaque clothes or applying sunscreen will reduce the risk of developing melanoma.
  • Examining Skin - It is important to examine the skin regularly for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks.

Treatment of tumor depends on its thickness. For small and medium-sized tumors the ideal biopsy technique is complete full thickness excision of the tissue.

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