As the leading cause of death from skin cancer, melanoma is often referred to as “the most dangerous type of skin cancer” (Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov), despite being less common than Squamous cell and Basal cell skin cancers. Because of its definition as one of the more deadly forms of cancer, public knowledge surrounding melanoma is of great importance. As a visible cancer – and one that is more easily preventable than many other forms – individuals should be actively involved in avoiding risk factors, as well as educating themselves on the causes and symptoms of the condition.
Caused by changes in the melanocyte cells (the production centre for melanin), melanoma can start in any area of the body containing these cells. While cases beginning in the skin are highly predominant, on very rare occurrences, melanoma can start in the eyes, mouth and throat, as well as under the fingernails, in the intestines and in the urinary tract. Few people expect there to be pigmentation in areas outside of the skin yet these other forms of melanoma do exist. Being that these areas are mostly not visible to the naked eye, they can be much more difficult to identify, without regular check-ups.
Melanoma is often categorized in four different subsections: Superficial spreading melanoma (common type that appears as a flat, irregular shape), Nodular melanoma (identified by its elevated and oddly colored nature), Lentigo meligna melanoma (generally found in the sun damaged skin of the elderly), and Acral lentiginous melanoma (a rare form found in calloused skin and under the nails) (Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). Melanoma is at high risk of spreading to other areas of the body, at which point it is referred to as metastatic melanoma. It is this form which OncoSec specializes in researching and treating.
Being the body’s largest organ, the skin can be a high-risk area for viral and bacterial infections, along with more serious conditions such as cancer. To better protect your skin against cancer-causing agent, it is important to understand that 90% of melanoma cases are caused by exposure to UV radiation (Source: melanomanetwork.ca): ultra violet rays found in sunlight, tanning beds and even household lighting and computer monitors. While appliances and general use lighting give off very low doses of UV light, try to limit your amount of time spent daily surrounding yourself with computer screens and bright artificial lighting.
Studies have found tanning bed usage at a young age can dramatically increase the chances of contracting melanoma, while the health benefits of booth tanning have been highly contested (Source: skincancer.org). While it may seem appealing to get a base tan before summer, it can greatly increase the chances of getting melanoma. In the case of direct sunlight, be advised that use of sunblock and sunscreen can greatly decrease the effects of UV light. During times of intense sunlight (such as the height of the summer months), protecting your skin from large doses of UV light can be a life saving decision, despite how casual it may seem to put on sunscreen or spend less time in direct sunlight.
If treated early, melanoma patients have a high rate of recovery. Due to the highly visible nature of this type of cancer, melanoma is often discernable by the naked eye, as long as one pays active attention to sunspots and moles on their skin. At the first sign in any major changes or strange skin formations, it is important to see your physician. When melanoma is caught before it has been able to spread, you will drastically increase the chances of a successful treatment.
For more information on higher risk melanoma, please see our metastatic melanoma article. If you have been diagnosed with melanoma and would like to be enrolled in our clinical trial treatment, consult our study record for more details.