Melanoma is a kind of skin cancer that affects the skin cells that produce the skin pigment called melanin. How melanoma usually starts is a dark mole, but it can also form on other tissue, such as eye tissue or intestinal tissue. It is very important to keep an eye on the moles you already have and to talk to your doctor whenever you notice them change or new ones form. According to the National Cancer Institute, there were over nine thousand deaths caused by melanoma in the United States in 2013, so this is a very serious issue that we need to tackle.
Stages of Melanoma
There are five stages of melanoma and the survival rate depends on the stage you discover it in. Of course, each individual is different, but a general rule is that the sooner you determine the problem, the higher your chances of survival are.
Stage 0. Also known as melanoma in situ. In this stage, your body will have some abnormal melanocytes, which are the melanin-producing cells that give pigment to your skin. In stage 0, these cells can become cancerous but are still just considered abnormal. You may notice a small mole. However harmless it is, a skilled dermatologist will be able to evaluate the situation and the possible development of melanoma.
Stage 1. In this stage, the tumor is about one millimeter thick and has no ulceration, which means that it has not broken through your skin. Further down the road, in stage 1b, the tumor may have some ulceration if it is up to 1mm, or no ulceration if it’s between one and two millimeters in size. The survival rate in stage 1a is 97% and in stage 1b 92% according to the American Cancer Society in the span of five years. In a ten-year span, survival rates are 95% at stage 1a and 86% for stage 1b.
Stage 2. In this stage, the tumor is already grown to more than 2mm in thickness and can be ulcerated. The usual treatment at this point is surgery, and your doctor can even order a sentinel lymph node biopsy to see how the cancer is progressing. The five-year survival rate in the stage 2a is 81% and 70% for stage 2b.
Stage 3. By this time, the tumor can be of any shape and size and to be considered stage 3 melanoma, cancer has to be spread to your lymph system. At this point, surgery is possible in order to remove the cancerous tissue, and a radiation therapy and medication treatment are also common. A five-year survival rate can be anywhere from 40 to 79 percent, and the ten-year survival rate can range between 24 and 68 percent.
Stage 4. At stage 4, cancer has spread throughout the body, to other parts, such as the brain, lungs, and other tissue and organs. At this point, cancer cannot be cured, and the five-year survival rate is as low as 15 to 20 percent, whereas the ten-year survival rate is only 10 to 15 percent.
What is Affecting the Survival Rate?
Some of the factors that can affect the rate of survival when it comes to melanoma are new developments in cancer treatment, an individual’s response to the treatment, and the age of the patient. Older patients, unfortunately, tend to not love as long as younger ones.
Since melanoma is treatable in the early stages, it is very important to be proactive and to identify the condition as soon as possible and deal with it immediately. If you notice a new mole or a change in an already existing one, or if you see a new and suspicious looking mark on your skin, go to your doctor immediately! People with over 100 moles fall into a risk group of melanoma, so carefully monitor your beauty spots and moles for changes.
Take care of your immune system. If you are infected with HIV or have already developed AIDS, your immune system will not be able to fight the disease and cancer will progress much faster, so getting regular checkups is of utmost importance.
Protect your skin from the sun at all times. Avoid long exposure to UV rays, do not use tanning beds, and wear sunscreen every time you leave the house. Wear protective clothing when outside and don’t forget to bring a hat.
Get familiar with the ABCDE method, a method of self-examination:
- A – Asymmetry – asymmetrical moles can be an early sign of melanoma
- B – Border – benign moles have even borders, and melanomas tend to have uneven, notched, or scalloped borders
- C – Color – benign moles are usually all one color, and a variety of colors is a signal that something may be wrong
- D – Diameter – benign moles have smaller diameters. Melanomas are larger in diameter (usually more than 6mm)
- E – Evolving – benign moles always look the same, while the potential melanoma changes in size, color, shape, elevation, or in some other way. It can also itch and start crusting at some point, which means that you have to go to your doctor immediately