What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a tumor of melanin-forming cells and can be found in any area of the body that contains melanocytes. According to the World Health Organization, there are about 48,000 deaths associated with melanoma worldwide every year.

While melanoma is less common when compared with other skin cancers, early detection is important as it is one of the most dangerous types of skin cancers —75% of deaths associated with skin cancer are caused by melanoma. On average, 160,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year and it is most common among white people. The highest incidence of melanoma is in Northern America, Europe, Oceania, Southern Africa and Latin America. Conversely, an inconsistent decrease has been observed in Sicily and southern Italy.

Melanoma is two to four times more likely to develop in people with common mutations in the MC1R gene. All people with red hair have a mutated copy of MC1R. In addition, mutation of the MDM2 SNP309 gene is associated with increased melanoma risk among young women.

Limiting exposure to sources of ultraviolet radiation — the sun and tanning beds — as well as following other sun protection measures, such as wearing sunscreens with a 50 sun protection factor or higher are recommended. Wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and wide-brimmed hats also offer protection.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, tanning beds are carcinogenic and the UV radiation from tanning beds increase the risk for melanoma. Data from more than 20 epidemiological studies suggest those who start using tanning beds prior to age 30 are 75% more likely to have melanoma. The artificial light used for tanning was once believed to help prevent skin cancers. However, it is now known that it increases the incidence of melanomas. Experts suggest avoiding exposure to the sun between 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM to decrease ultraviolet light exposure.

Treatment of melanoma includes removal of the tumor; the cure rate is high when melanoma is detected early. For melanomas that return or spread, treatment consists of radiation, chemo-and immunotherapy.

The original article appeared in HemOnc today

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