Melanoma skin cancer is the most serious form of skin cancer. The incidence of this cancer has increased significantly since the 1980s. Over 14,325 people were diagnosed in France in 2015 and 1,773 died as a result of it.
Melanoma skin cancer can be cured in most cases if detected early. On the other hand, the existing treatments are less effective when it is diagnosed at a later stage. Screening of those at risk is improving and prevention initiatives are hammering home the need to protect oneself against the sun.
The sun is the skin’s number one enemy. Exposure to sunlight is even more harmful when it is prolonged, intense and when fair skinned people expose themselves. Some skin conditions are also risk factors: inherited conditions, scars, burns, chronic skin ulcers, inflammatory conditions etc. Sun beds are another key risk factor, as they significantly increase the risk of cancer, notably melanoma. Contrary to received wisdom, using a sun bed to get a tan does not prepare the skin for being exposed to the sun.
In most cases, a small pigmented spot appears on healthy skin. An existing mole (or beauty spot) changes. We recommend keeping an eye on your skin and being aware of any changes to the appearance of moles and seeing your doctor if in any doubt at all. It is recommended that you examine your skin every three months using the ABCDE rule and make an appointment with a dermatologist once a year:
- A is for Asymmetrical shape.
- B is for irregular Borders.
- C is for uneven Color.
- D is for Diameter (if it increases)
- E is for Evolution (rapid change of size, shape, color and thickness).
NB: Nurses, physiotherapists and chiropodists are also trained to spot skin lesions.
The average age at which people are diagnosed is 56. This type of cancer currently affects slightly more women (53% of cases) than men (47% of cases). However, incidence in men has more than tripled and has almost doubled in women since 1980.
Melanoma develops from skin cells called melanocytes. They mutate and multiply in an anarchic fashion to form a lump or growth of tissue called a malignant tumor. There are four main types of skin melanoma: superficial spreading melanoma, lentigo maligna melanoma, nodular melanoma and acral lentiginous melanoma.
Treatment is primarily based on surgery adapted to where the cancer is and how deep it has spread.
Choice of treatment hinges upon the characteristics of the melanoma: type, location, stage and grade, i.e. how aggressive it is.
The surgeon removes the melanoma in the case of localized cancers. In most cases, a second operation is carried out to ensure that all the cancer cells have been removed and therefore to limit the risk of reoccurrence. The lymph nodes close to the tumor are also sometimes removed. For the more advanced stages, metastases are removed if there are not too many of them. External radiotherapy is used in some cases.
Institut National du Cancer, Le mélanome de la peau : les points clés