Melanoma is the most dangerous and rare form of skin cancer; but, with early prevention, most melanomas are treatable and non-life threatening. According to Cancer.net, the 5-year survival rate for early-stage melanoma is 98%. Once it has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, the survival rate decreases to 63%, and if it has spread to other parts of the body, the survival rate lowers to 17%.
Once melanoma has spread and latched on in other areas of the body, it is known as metastatic melanoma and becomes more difficult to treat. As the above statistics show, early-prevention is key to treating this potentially life-threatening cancer.
What is metastatic melanoma and how does it spread?
Metastatic melanoma simply means that the melanoma has spread from its initial site in the body. This occurs in stage III and stage IV of the four stages of melanoma. Melanoma begins in melanocyte cells found in the innermost layer of the epidermis (the top layer of our skin). Groups of cells begin behaving abnormally and growing excessively, taking over surrounding tissues.
Melanomas can develop from existing moles or skin growths, but, more commonly, they will start as a new growth. Once a melanoma has begun growing in the skin it can break off and spread to new sites through the lymphatic system and/or blood vessels. When it has spread beyond the skin and into the lymph nodes and/or distant organs, like the liver, lungs brain, bone or soft tissues, it is considered metastatic melanoma.
Metastatic melanoma can be treated through surgeries to remove the tumors, with chemotherapy, immunotherapy and other treatments. Survival rates vary depending on how much the melanoma has spread, the thickness of the melanomas and other factors.
What causes melanoma?
Anyone can get melanoma, but most cases of melanoma are caused by UV radiation from sunlight; some studies even put incidences of skin cancer caused by sun exposure at around 95%. The UV (ultraviolet) rays from the sun damage skin cells’ ability to repair DNA. When this happens, gene mutations can occur and risk of cancer increases.
The risk of melanoma is higher in fair-skinned people and if there is a history of melanoma in the family as gene mutations are passed from one generation to the next.
Stay safe: check your skin
Catching melanoma early is the best form of prevention. Download SkinVision for free to check your suspicious moles and spots for signs of cancer, connect with doctors and track changes in your skin over time.
Find out even more about melanoma in our post, Melanoma: the complete story.