Melanoma is the rarest but deadliest form of skin cancer. Just why it is so deadly is revealed in the way that it forms.
How it forms — the basics
Melanoma begins in melanocytes cells (the cells that create pigment called melanin) in the deepest layer of skin, also known as the hypodermic or subcutaneous tissue. When these cells become damaged, mutations can occur and the mutated cells can reproduce themselves rapidly, eventually forming a tumor and taking over surrounding tissues. In the case of melanoma, this damage is usually caused by UV radiation from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds. Melanomas can develop from existing moles or skin growths, but, more commonly, they will start as a new growth.
Aggressive tumor growth
New research from the University of Iowa points to just how aggressive mutated melanocyte cells are. When compared to breast cancer cells, melanoma cells were much faster in both dividing into new cells and in creating “bridges” to connect small clusters of cancer cells together to form tumors.
The article stated:
“One lab test showed a single cell moving a distance three times its diameter and joining with a small cancerous cluster in just four hours. In another instance, within 72 hours, 24 individual melanoma cells or small clusters of cells had mostly repositioned themselves into one large cancerous clot—an 80 percent accretion rate.”
By comparison, breast cancer cells were found to wait on average 100 hours before forming into clusters.
Once tumors are formed, they then typically begin to spread throughout the body.
How tumors spread throughout the body
After a melanoma tumor has spread horizontally through the top layers of skin, it will begin to penetrate downwards into the dermis (the second layer of skin) in a process known as ulceration. After that it will progress to the blood vessels and lymph nodes located in the dermis. When this happens, the cancer cells are now able to settle and take root in new areas of the body such as the bones or organs.
The importance of early detection
Since melanoma cells are particularly fast-developing, this means that if the cancer isn’t detected in the early stages, it can quickly progress with far worse prognoses for the individual. This is why understanding the warning signs and checking the skin regularly for any changes is so important. If caught in its early stages, melanoma can be treated relatively easily, usually with a simple surgery to cut out the melanoma. However, once the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and organs, it gets much more difficult to treat.
Make sure to perform regular self-checks. Start by joining the SkinVision program and download the app as a first step – which enables you to check for early skin cancer signs.