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Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It gets its name from the pigment producing cells of the skin, called melanocyte. Sometimes, these melanocytes get triggered to start replicating very rapidly and erratically and they are termed to have turned cancerous.

What are the causes for Melanoma?

Melanomas are most commonly caused by sun damage- the harmful ultraviolet sun rays damage the DNA of the cells. Melanomas can run in families and tends to be more common in people of Caucasian descent.

How to recognize Melanoma?

The most common way that people recognize melanomas is by seeing changes in a mole. Most melanomas tend to be brown but they can be pink, purple or even white.

It also helps to know some things that you need to keep a watch for

  • Asymmetry in a mole- Moles tend to be uniform in their shape. Any change in their shape would be a warning sign that needs to be checked.
  • Uneven border of a mole- Most moles are quite smooth to touch. But, if the edge feels rough or irregular, then it’s a significant change.
  • Any colour change in a mole is another warning sign and should be examined by a doctor.
  • Any bleeding or itching in a mole should be checked.
  • A sudden increase in the size of the mole is another warning sign.

If you notice any of these signs, a visit to your doctor is called for. Your doctor might recommend a skin biopsy in which a small piece of skin is removed and examined. In case required, a biopsy of lymph nodes, CT scans and other tests might also be advised.

If diagnosed early, most melanomas are easily cured by surgery which involves removing the affected part of the skin. If the cancer is more advanced, the surgery might also involve removing the lymph nodes in the surrounding area. In case of the cancer having spread to other parts of the body, immunotherapy or chemotherapy might be recommended. Immunotherapy involves energizing the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer. In chemotherapy, strong drugs are used to destroy the cancer causing cells.

Can I prevent Melanoma?

  • The commonest cause of melanomas is excess sun exposure. So, a few precautions, like using sunscreen with an SPF of 20-30 and a four or five star UVA protection can help. Reapplying sunscreen every 2-3 hours is also important.  Also, avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun, especially between 11 am and 3 pm, can actually help in preventing melanoma. It’s also advisable to avoid tanning rooms as these are also damaging.
  • Self-monitoring of moles can also help. By keeping the warnings signs in mind, any change in a mole can be checked immediately.

Just a few precautions and timely detection can help in keeping a check on melanomas.

 We strongly recommend that you consult your doctor before starting any treatment regime.

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