Causes, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment of malignant melanoma skin cancer.

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What is Malignant Melanoma Skin Cancer?

Malignant melanoma is the most fatal of all skin cancers and spreads quickly. Although it is the deadliest skin cancer, it can be cured if caught and treated early. The cells that give hair, skin and eyes their pigmentation are called melanocytes. When melanocytes become damaged, the cells begin to grow uncontrollably. If left untreated, melanoma will spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes and blood vessels.

Causes of Malignant Melanoma Skin Cancer

The exact cause of damaged skin cells is unclear, but experts theorize that a combination of the environment and genetics. According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors believe that the leading causes of melanoma are being exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and tanning beds.

Risk Factors of Malignant Melanoma Skin Cancer

There are several risk factors of malignant melanoma skin cancer. Those with fair skin are at an increased risk of malignant melanoma because less pigment means less protection from UV rays.

Living close to the equator or at a high altitude can also increase your risk. This is because the UV rays from the sun are more direct in these locations and residents experience higher levels of radiation.

Having more than 50 moles on the body or one unusual mole can predispose one to malignant melanoma. An unusual mole is characterized by being larger than 1/5 of an inch, having irregular borders and varying in color.

Other risk factors for malignant melanoma skin cancer include a history of sunburns, excessive exposure to the sun or regular tanning, a family history of the cancer and a weakened immune system.

Symptoms of Malignant Melanoma Skin Cancer

Malignant melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin, but they most often appear in areas that receive the most sun exposure. The face, arms, legs and back are the most common starting points for melanoma. Melonoma can also appear hidden on the bottom of the foot, palm of the hand or on the fingernail bed.

The first symptoms of melanoma are changes in the shape, size or color of a mole or the development of a new skin growth.

Diagnosis of Malignant Melanoma Skin Cancer

The only way to accurately diagnose malignant melanoma is with a biopsy. During a biopsy, the mole or growth is removed and sent to a pathologist for analysis.There are three types of biopsies used to diagnose malignant melanoma skin cancer: punch,excisional and incisional.

Treatment of Malignant Melanoma Skin Cancer

In early-stage melanoma, surgery is performed to remove the cancer along with a border of normal skin and a layer of tissue underneath the skin.

Treating malignant melanoma skin cancer that has spread to other parts of the body requires more aggressive treatment. Treatment options include surgery to remove the lymph nodes, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or immunotherapy.

References

The Skin Cancer Foundation: Melanoma - www.skincancer.org/melanoma

Mayo Clinic: Melanoma - www.mayoclinic.com/health/melanoma/ds00439