According to the World Health Organization, 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year. If caught early, melanoma is highly treatable with some estimates at 98% for the five-year survival rate. But once the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body it is known as metastatic melanoma and becomes much harder to treat.
A study published by the Journal of Oncology puts the 5-year survival rate for patients with metastatic disease at around less than 15%.
Metastatic melanoma is a scary cancer and that’s why its key to know the warning signs to catch it as early as possible.
But before we dive into the symptoms, let’s take a look at what exactly is metastatic melanoma.
What is metastatic melanoma?
Metastatic melanoma simply means that the melanoma has spread from its initial site in the body. There are four stages of melanoma. The first two stages of the cancer are localized to the skin. In stages three and four, the melanoma has spread beyond the skin and into the lymph nodes and/or distant organs, like the liver, lungs, brain, bone or soft tissues. This is when it is considered metastatic melanoma.
How does this happen?
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.
What causes metastatic melanoma?
Anyone can get melanoma, but most cases of melanoma are caused by UV (ultraviolet) radiation from sunlight; some studies even put incidences of skin cancer caused by sun exposure at around 95%. The UV 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 as they have less melanin in their skin to protect from the sun’s rays. Risk is also higher if there is a history of melanoma in the family as gene mutations are often passed down from one generation to the next.
What are the metastatic melanoma symptoms?
Metastatic melanoma has some distinct symptoms that differ from stage one and two melanoma.
When melanoma has metastasized, it can present as:
• Hard lumps under your skin
• Enlarged or painful lymph nodes
• Feelings of tiredness and lethargy
• Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
• Bowel problems such as diarrhoea and constipation
• Coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath
• Bone pain
• Numbness in your arms and legs
It’s important to note that symptoms can range widely depending on where the cancer has spread and other factors including patient health and how far the cancer has advanced. If you have any suspicions about any lumps or pains in your body, contact a doctor immediately and get them checked out.
Read more about melanoma types
Stay on top of your health
And, remember, be vigilant so that you can catch skin cancer in its early stages. Perform monthly skin-checks to spot any suspicious moles before they spread deeper into the skin. Read up on the early symptoms of melanoma and how to spot them and download SkinVision for free to begin checking your moles.