Given the fact that Australia in general, and Queensland in particular, have the dubious distinction of ranking near the top among regions with the highest rates of melanoma, it should come as no surprise that the skin disease is sometimes referred to as ‘Australia’s national cancer’. Abundant sunlight and access to outdoor activities combine to significantly raise the risk of developing this serious skin disease for Australians.
· Melanoma is the third most common type of cancer among Australian men and women.
· Among 15 to 40-year-old Australians, melanoma is the most common form of cancer.
· In 2020, over 1,700 Australians died from melanoma of the skin.
Melanoma is one of the most serious types of skin cancer. When detected early, simple surgery can be used to treat it, but the disease can prove lethal in its advanced stages. The good news is that innovative treatments like targeted drugs and immunotherapy are improving the prospects of those with advanced melanoma. And over 90% of those diagnosed with the skin disease live at least five years after their diagnosis.
Melanoma takes its name from the fact that the condition impacts skin cells producing melanin, which produce skin color. The risk of developing melanoma is strongly linked to sun exposure, particularly exposure to ultraviolet rays. Although melanoma usually occurs in the skin, about 5% of cases develop in other tissue types.
The following conditions raise your odds of developing melanoma:
· Having many moles
· Having moles at birth
· Pale skin that freckles easily
Another factor is age. Older people are more susceptible to melanoma.
Melanoma can develop on the skin in a variety of ways. It can appear in a flat form like a freckle, or have a raised surface like a mole. You may detect changes in the shape, size, or color of an existing mole or birthmark.
If you detect an area of your skin that appears different than the surrounding skin, this may be a reason for concern. In addition, having multiple moles, or moles that develop near existing ones, may be a warning sign.
Dermatologists have developed a rule known as ABCDE to help guide people on what they should be looking for:
· Asymmetry: Half of a skin growth does not match the other half.
· Border: Irregular, blurred, or ragged edges.
· Color: Lack of uniformity in color. May display various shades of black or brown, or even white, red, pink, or blue patches.
· Diameter: Abnormally large, although some melanomas may be smaller.
· Evolving: The shape, size, or color of the mole is changing.
When melanoma is developing, there may be more obvious skin changes like lumpiness, tenderness, hardness, bleeding or bruising.
A melanoma diagnosis comes about through the use of a microscope. A number of criteria go into making the determination, especially the depth or thickness of the tumor. How far the melanoma penetrates the skin is an important factor.
The great danger of melanoma is that it has the ability to spread throughout the body, a process known as metastasis. For example, cancer cells can enter the lymphatic system, which is a system responsible for carrying fluid throughout the body as part of the immune and circulatory system.
From there, cancer cells can travel to other parts of the body such as the organs. Once cancer has reached vital organs, it becomes significantly more deadly.
Melanoma can be harder to detect than other forms of cancer, due largely to the fact that most people do not regularly visit a dermatologist unless something is already wrong. When you visit your dentist, for example, they will have an opportunity to conduct a visual examination of your mouth to check for signs of oral cancer before cleaning your teeth. So it is important that you conduct a self-exam periodically.
A skin cancer check begins with an examination of your skin when you are disrobed, such as before entering or exiting your shower or bath tub. This gives you a baseline of normalcy so that if something changes, you will be more likely to notice it and schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.
· Examine your body in a mirror: Take a look at the front of your body, and back, in a full-length mirror. Raise your arms and look at each side of your body.
· Check palms, forearms and underarms: Bend your elbows and carefully look at your palms, forearms and underarms.
· Take a look at the soles of your feet and your legs: Also examine between your toes and the backs of your legs.
· Examine your scalp and neck using a hand mirror: When examining your scalp, part your hair for a closer look.
· Check your back and buttocks: Use a hand mirror to check these areas.
Even using a hand mirror, it can sometimes be difficult to fully examine one’s own body. You may request the help of a friend or relative to help you examine some areas of your skin.
As you become more familiar with the normal appearance of your skin, you will develop a clear picture of your body and skin, including existing moles and other skin features. This familiarity will allow you to spot any changes in your skin that could be an area of concern.
If you notice any sudden changes to your skin, such as changing spots, spots that appear different from other spots, or bleeding or itching, you should schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist to get it checked out.
Residents of Australia are particularly vulnerable to melanoma skin cancer, largely due to the favorable climate and abundant recreational activities that expose people more frequently to ultraviolet sunlight.
Although melanoma is a serious disease, it has a high cure rate when detected and treated in its early stages before it can spread throughout the body. Conducting a regular skin cancer check is an important part of preventing melanoma.