What is Melanoma?
Melanoma begins in cells called melanocytes and can become a life-threatening tumor. You see the signs of melanoma on the skin (usually brown or black spots) but it can grow into the skin, reaching blood vessels and lymphatic systems.
If it is not recognized in time, it can spread to other organs, becoming fatal. Once melanoma spreads deeper into the skin and into other body parts, treatment can become difficult.
Who is at risk?
Everyone is exposed to some level of risk, but certain factors can increase the likelihood of melanoma becoming fatal.
1. Sun Exposure
UVA/UVB rays damage the skin by disrupting the melanocytes, triggering a response from your body in the form of a tan. Over time, the effects of sun exposure accumulate, increasing your risk of melanoma.
According to the American Skin Association, the median age of diagnosis is 59 and the median age of death due to melanoma is 67.
There are different types of moles, and if you have moles, it is wise to have your doctor keep an eye on them on a regular basis to catch abnormalities. Changes in shape, colour, the texture could signal to your doctor to perform a biopsy to determine if it needs to be treated or not.
3. Family History
If any of your immediate family members (parents, siblings, children) is diagnosed with melanoma, then you have a 50% greater chance of developing melanoma than a family without that history.
4. Genetic Risk
If there is a mutation in the BRAF gene, it can lead to uncontrolled cell growth and cancer. This is most commonly seen in familial melanoma, which occurs in another gene – p53.
5. Personal History
If you have been treated for other types of skin cancer like Basal Cell Carcinoma or Squamous Cell Carcinomas, then you are at a higher risk for developing melanoma.
6. Skin Type
If you have a fairer skin type, you are at a higher risk for developing melanoma.
7. Immune System
With a compromised immune system, there’s an increased chance of developing melanoma. The immune system can also be compromised when undergoing chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS or organ transplant.
Like many things in life, you can still enjoy the sun, but don’t underestimate the effects it can have on your body. If you have any of the traits listed above, take extra precaution! Prevention is key.