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Melanoma

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer associated with exposure to ultraviolet rays- either from the sun itself, or from tanning beds that emit harmful rays. The appearance of a new mole, or a change in the appearance of an existing mole can be a sign that you have developed skin cancer. If it is detected early, melanoma can be removed easily by a surgeon - but if not, it can spread to lymph nodes or the other organs in the body.

 

If you’ve noticed a new mole, or an irregularity in an existing mole, it’s vital to speak to a GP as soon as possible. The slightest change could be an early sign of cancer, and a short consultation could end up saving your life. 

Causes of melanoma

 

The majority of melanoma cases are associated with exposure to the UVA and UVB rays that come from the sun. Experts believe that UVB rays are the most likely to lead to cancer, and research continues into the role UVA rays play in causing melanomas to develop. You may also be at increased risk of developing melanoma if:

 

  • You have lots of moles on your body.
  • You have pale skin.
  • You have red or blonde hair.
  • You have blue eyes.
  • You have lots of freckles.
  • You have previously been sunburnt.
  • You, or someone in your direct family, has had a previous diagnosis of melanoma skin cancer.
  • You have a less effective immune system due to the side effect of a medication or other health conditions such as HIV.

Common symptoms of melanoma

 

A regular mole is usually round or oval-shaped, no bigger than around 6mm. They have smooth edges and are generally evenly coloured, with a brown, black or tan shade. New moles, or changes in the appearance of existing moles, may be earliest signs that you may have melanoma.

 

The ABCDE mole checklist provides a useful way to help you tell the difference between a regular mole and a melanoma:

 

  • Asymmetry - is the mole an irregular shape? Melanomas often develop asymmetrically and have two different halves, rather than a smooth oval or circle shape.
  • Border - melanomas may have a ragged, uneven border.
  • Colours - most regular moles are of one colour. If you notice your mole has combinations of two or more colours, it may be a cause for concern.
  • Diameter - is your mole particularly big? A mole larger than 6mm in diameter should be checked by a GP.
  • Enlargement or elevation - if you’ve noticed that your mole is growing in diameter or becoming more prominent over time, it’s more likely to be a melanoma.

 

The ABCDE checklist is by no means an exhaustive guide to irregular moles. Any subtle changes in the appearance of a mole, or new sensations like itching or burning, should be investigated by a doctor. 

Treatment for melanoma


Melanoma is treatable if it’s caught at an early stage in its development. Once a possible melanoma has been identified, a biopsy will be carried out to determine whether the mole is cancerous, and help your doctors gauge which stage the melanoma has reached.

 

Different stages of melanoma will require different treatments. The earliest stages (stages 1-2) of melanoma can be treated with surgical excision to remove the mole. Once the cancerous mole has been surgically removed, it usually does not return. However, if your melanoma has reached the later stages (stages 3-4), the cancer may have spread to your lymph nodes and other parts of the body. Surgery and other treatments including immunotherapy offer encouraging results for those with severe melanoma.

 

When it comes to melanoma, the safest option is to consult a doctor right away if any changes are noticed with a mole, or a new one is seen. The advantages of early detection are clear, and could end up saving your life. If you’re worried about melanoma and would like to speak to a GP, download the babylon app and get in touch with one of our professionals today.