What is melanoma? The senior’s guide

what is melanoma
How melanoma cancer is formed under the skin

Recent studies show reports of a breakthrough in melanoma cancer research. Leading skin cancer researchers, who are beginning to outsmart the disease, claim this is prime time for developments in their research and are confident that they can now combat the skin disease with ease. There are promises that seniors will be able to remain healthy seniors through the advances in medicine.

So what is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a potentially dangerous cancer that starts in a certain type of skin cell. Although it is diagnosed less frequently than other kinds of skin cancer, it has the ability to spread very rapidly. Unlike other cancers, melanoma can often be seen on the skin, making it easier to detect in the early stages. Melanoma cancer most often begins on the skin, but can develop on the other parts of the body, such as under the fingernails and toenails. It can also develop in the eye (ocular melanoma) and in mucous membranes (mucosal melanoma) and other areas where melanocytes are found. These more discreet forms of melanoma are often very dangerous as they are more difficult to detect. They don’t show warning signs until the cancer has progressed.

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer due to its tendency to spread to lymph nodes and other areas of the body, as compared to the other types of skin cancer, which are called basal and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma most commonly spreads to the liver, lungs, bones, and brain.

What are the causes and risks of melonoma?

After addressing the question of what is melanoma, the causes and risks of this disease in its rapid growth need to be digested. While we don’t know what causes melanoma exactly, we do know of the risk factors that increase the likelihood of the disease developing. These include:

• Sun exposure, particularly during childhood
• Exposure to UV radiation through the use of tanning beds
• Fair skin that burns easily
• Blistering sunburn, especially when young
• Previous melanoma
• Previous non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma )
• Family history of melanoma, especially if two or more members are affected
• Large numbers of moles (especially if there are more than 100)
• Abnormal moles, called atypical or dysplastic naevi
• Seniors are further at risk, although it can occur in young people also

Keep in mind that people of all races and complexions can develop melanoma; although fair-skinned people tend to be more prone as their skin is sensitive, it is not limited to them. For those seniors who were exposed to sunlight often during their childhood, and others who perhaps have moles or fair skin, here’s what to look out for.

Symptoms of melanoma

Symptoms of melanoma and other skin cancers vary from person to person. It doesn’t always begin as a mole and can also occur on otherwise normal-appearing skin. It is important to note that not all skin cancers and melanomas fall into these categories, but here are some guidelines:

• A change in an existing mole. There may be itching, scaliness, bleeding or oozing
• The development of a new pigmented or unusual-looking growth on the skin
• A spot or sore that becomes painful, itchy, tender or bleeds
• A spot or lump that looks shiny, waxy, smooth or pale
• A flat, red spot that is rough, dry or scaly.

Specialists have researched cures for melanoma for years. A decade ago, doctors could do little to help patients with advanced-stage melanoma. But now with recent advances, it seems week by week we are a step closer, finding new discoveries about the deadly skin cancer. 

What’s new in melanoma cancer research?

A study from the Division of Dermatology and Cutaneous Sciences at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine features useful research that when collaborated with medical sources across the USA, may well aid in finding purposeful medicine for melanoma cancer.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and now is by any measure the most exciting time for melanoma research,” said Brian Nickoloff, director of the Nicholas V Perricone, M.D., at the college of Human Medicine.

“In the past melanoma outsmarted us, but now we’re starting to outsmart melanoma,” he continued.

“Go back 10 years and you’ll see we had almost nothing to offer patients with advanced disease, but now we’re definitely getting the upper hand on this cancer.”

Scientists from different disciplines at research centers across the USA and internationally are currently collaborating on projects geared toward getting new, less toxic treatments to patients as quickly as possible.

Melanoma DNA breakthrough

Melanoma is really a catch-all term for the most aggressive types of skin cancer. The complexity of the disease strain is staggering – melanoma tumors have more mutations per cell than any other type of cancer.

But new diagnostic tools such as DNA sequencing help scientists work through valuable data to decode each tumor’s properties.
And while the list of known mutations that cause melanoma keeps growing, researchers can target most of them by blocking a handful of the “signaling pathways” that control normal cell function and can cause tumors to form and spread.

Study results

Seniors who have asked themselves ‘what is melanoma?’ can now take comfort in the knowledge that scientists have put together a series of trials to target melanoma cancer in the advance stages in seniors.

In the research journal Laboratory Investigation, Nickoloff and colleagues outline recent advances that have put melanoma research at the forefront, raising hopes that scientists and clinicians may have cornered the deadliest of all skin cancers.

As doctors have discovered some of the gene changes in melanoma cells, they started to develop drugs that attack these changes. These targeted drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy drugs.

There are now around 100 new drugs in development, which are designed to combat melanoma cancer. New combinations of drugs are in the making and vaccines directed at melanoma are being studied in clinical trials.

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