Makes up about 5% of all skin cancers
Approximately 90% with early detection and proper treatment. More advanced melanoma has a higher mortality.
About: While Melanoma is the least common kind of skin cancer, it is the leading cause of skin cancer deaths. It develops from an abnormal growth of the cells which produce melanin, the dark pigment in skin. When left untreated, it reaches the blood stream or lymphatic system and spreads to other parts of the body, often resulting in death. Experts estimate about 90% of melanomas are associated with severe UVR exposure and sunburns over a lifetime.
What to Look For:
A freckle or mole that:
- changes in size, shape or colour
- has irregular edges or borders
- is asymmetrical
- diameter >7mm
- change in sensation
- oozes, bleeds or is ulcerated (a hole forms in the skin)
Change in pigmented skin
New moles growing near an existing mole
Image courtesy of Canadian Dermatology Association
What to Do:
Book an appointment with your family doctor as soon as possible. If there’s anything unusual, they may perform a biopsy and will likely refer you to a dermatologist for further examination.
Dermatologists are skin specialists. If the area looks suspicious, the dermatologist will conduct a biopsy of the mole to see if there are any abnormal cells or remove it completely.
How It’s Treated:
Despite all the modern drugs, it cannot be overstressed that prevention and early detection are the best lines of defence.
The method used to treat melanoma depends on the thickness of the tumour and whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
Four types of standard treatment are used:
- Surgery – Surgery to remove the tumour is the main treatment used to treat all stages of melanoma. Even after surgery, some patients require chemotherapy (interferon) to ensure the cancer has been removed.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells by killing the cells or stopping them from dividing. The anticancer drugs are injected directly into the bloodstream or taken orally.
- Radiation Therapy – Radiation Therapy uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing. Radiation can be applied externally using a machine or internally via implants.
- Biologic Therapy – Biologic Therapy uses the patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer. Substances made either in the body or in the lab are used to boost, direct or restore the body's natural defences.