Melanomas are a type of skin cancer. They develop within the skin’s pigment cells and can soon spread to other areas of the body.
Discovering or suspecting you have a melanoma can understandably be extremely worrying. Below, we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about melanomas and how they can be treated.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma, referred to medically as Cutaneous Malignant Melanoma when arising on the skin, is a type of cancer commonly caused by sun exposure. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, our melanocytes (skin pigment cells) create more melanin. The melanin causes the skin to darken, giving you a suntan.
It is possible for the melanocytes to grow together in often harmless clusters, commonly referred to as moles. It is thought that the average person has around 10-50 moles on their body that are harmless.
Occasionally, melanocytes can become cancerous, causing them to multiply in an uncontrolled manner. They begin to invade the cells surrounding them and can travel to other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver and lymph nodes.
What is the cause of Melanoma?
The most common cause of melanoma is too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays. There has been evidence to suggest too much sun exposure within the first 20 years of life can contribute towards melanoma later on in adulthood.
Some people also have an increased risk of developing a melanoma such as those who burn easily in the sun and people who have over 50 moles on their body. There is also some evidence to suggest that it can be hereditary. Approximately 1 in 10 people who develop melanoma have a relative who has also experienced the disease.
In some cases, melanoma doesn’t cause any symptoms. However, early on you may experience itching and tingling around the affected area. You may also notice small changes within the skin, such as a change in size or colour of existing skin moles. As the cancer develops, the area will feel lumpy and hard, and it may crust or bleed.
Whenever you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to seek diagnosis as soon as possible.
How are Melanomas diagnosed and treated?
If you suspect you have a melanoma, book an appointment with your GP. They will be able to assess the area to see whether the changes could be down to something completely harmless. If they have any doubt over what it could be, they will refer you to a specialist.
Mr Myles Smith has extensive experience diagnosing and treating melanoma. During your consultation, he will examine the area and determine whether further assessment is needed. When it is needed, part of the suspected mole will be removed to be assessed within a laboratory. If a melanoma is discovered, it will be removed through surgery.
After you have had a melanoma removed, if you need a further excision, Mr. Smith will discuss your options with you, which may include sentinel node biopsy.
Although being diagnosed with a melanoma can be extremely scary, three quarters of patients who have them removed make a full recovery. The key is to ensure it is diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible.
For more advice, call us on 020 3770 5864 to arrange an appointment at the HCA Lister Hospital Clinics (Chelsea Outpatient Centre and Chiswick Medical Centre) or call 020 7808 2785 to book a consultation with Mr Myles Smith at the Royal Marsden Hospital.