The question “what is melanoma” is one that has probably passed your lips at some point in your life. Melanoma is a word that is often said as part of the warnings about the effects of sunlight on our skin. We associate it with skin cancer and that can make melanoma a scary word to hear. But melanoma comes in different forms and it is certainly detectable, preventable and even curable. So, what is melanoma?
Melanoma skin cancer explained
Hopefully this quick explanation of skin cancer will be able to answer your what is melanoma questions. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer (but not the only one). It develops when the skin has been exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or from sunbeds. This triggers genetic changes in the cell structure of the skin causing them to rapidly multiply and become malignant tumours.
These tumours live and start within the pigment part of the skin called the melanocytes and may stay there. But in some cases they can spread into other parts of the body.
What does a melanoma look like?
One of the best ways to answer the question of what is melanoma is to simply explain what they look like. Most will look like moles on the skin that could be either black or brown, skin coloured, pink or red. They can even be purple or blue in colour. These moles will often look unusual in their shape with irregular edges, asymmetrical shapes or they could be raised, itchy, scaly or bleeding. Any of these signs are worth a trip to your doctor for another look.
TIP: For comparison, take a look at these melanoma pictures.
What causes melanoma?
Now that we know what is melanoma we need to know what can cause it. Yes, being sunburned or having too much exposure to the sun or sunbeds is a factor, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Other factors include already having a large number of moles, the type of skin you have (fair skin is more prone), if your immune system is weakened and if there is any history of melanoma in your family. In fact, one in every ten people diagnosed with melanoma has a family history.
Read more: Melanoma Causes
Is melanoma curable?
Almost always, yes – but only if it is found early enough. The key is recognising a melanoma before it has spread too far and especially before it has spread to other parts of your body. These are called invasive melanomas and will cause the most deaths. They are not the most common, however. In most cases, your melanoma can be removed surgically and no further treatment is required. If it is at a later stage you may require some further treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation.
How do I prevent melanoma?
One of the best things about knowing what is melanoma is understanding that there are plenty of ways that you can prevent this skin cancer from being a part of your life. One of the most obvious ways to prevent skin cancer is to avoid sunlight as much as you can. Clearly, this isn’t always possible, so make sure that you stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day and that you wear clothing that covers your skin when you do have to go out. Always use a good sunblock and reapply it often.
Finally and probably most importantly is – keep an eye on your skin. Use our app to keep a close check on your moles and take note of changes. Noticing small changes now is probably the single most important thing you can do to prevent potential melanomas becoming dangerous for you and your skin.