Melanoma Frequently Asked Questions

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a malignant skin tumor that usually originates in melanocytes. These skin cells are responsible for producing melanin, a brown pigment that darkens the skin and protects it from the sun. The tumor may appear as a new lesion or as a mole that changes in appearance, shape or color. They are usually brown or black, as their cells continue to produce melanin. The main cause of the appearance of the tumor is severe sun exposure without adequate protection, which can cause burns.

Which people are more predisposed to suffer from it and can we prevent its appearance?

People with light skin and eyes, with blond or red hair and who have difficulty tanning, as well as those who have a large number of moles on their skin, have a higher probability of developing melanoma and should adopt preventive behaviors, as they are more vulnerable to the sun. It is important to know if there are cases of the disease in the family, since there is a genetic tendency to suffer from it. In addition, having had melanoma previously increases the risk of developing it again in the future.

All people with a potential risk of developing melanoma should protect themselves from the sun in a responsible manner, especially in childhood. Some indications are to avoid exposure to the sun in the central hours of the day, to use sunscreen throughout the year, applying it frequently and properly, to wear sun-protective clothing, such as caps or hats, and also to protect your eyesight with sunglasses.

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How can we detect it?

The appearance of a new mole or freckle or changes in a pre-existing freckle can alert us to the presence of melanoma. In this situation we should consult a specialist, who should evaluate the patient’s medical history in detail, review the lesions and their evolution. For skin analysis, non-invasive imaging techniques are used to detect the tumor, such as dermoscopy, digital body mapping, laser focal microscopy and high-frequency ultrasound.

The only way to detect melanoma early is by examining the skin, so it is important to perform periodic self-examinations and to examine the skin of our relatives. To recognize most melanomas early, the ABCD rule is applied:

– A: Asymmetry

– B: Presence of Irregular Borders

– C: Diversity of Colors (white, pink, brown, bluish, black).

– D: Diameter greater than 6 mm.

E for Evolution can also be added, as the tumor usually changes in size, shape and color over time.

Does it require treatment and what techniques are available to treat it?

To prevent the tumor from spreading and reaching deep layers of the skin and affecting internal organs, it is necessary to treat it in time. The main treatment is surgery to remove the tumor. Total wide excision removes the tumor as well as the surrounding tissue and examines it to confirm that no cancer cells remain.

In some cases after surgery, radiation therapy may be used to destroy the remaining cells that could not be removed. Another method of achieving this is the use of immunotherapy. During the development of the tumor, the patient’s immune system responds to destroy its cells. This treatment stimulates the immune response and thus our own body destroys the remains of the tumor. Chemotherapy can also be used to fight the tumor with medication.

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Patients who have been treated for melanoma should have regular examinations where their entire skin is examined. The examination includes palpation of the area where the lesion appeared and when necessary, appropriate tests will be performed.