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Melanoma: risks, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Learn more about melanoma

Melanoma

In Australia, we have one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world.  One in 14 men and 1 in 24 women will be diagnosed with melanoma before age 851. Although melanoma is more common in people aged over 60, it is among the five most commonly diagnosed cancers in all age groups.

Who is most at risk of getting melanoma?

Anyone can develop melanoma, but the risk is higher you have:

  • Unprotected exposure to the sun. Overexposure to UV radiation from the sun, or solarium tanning machines, is the main preventable cause of melanoma.
  • Lots of moles, or moles with an irregular shape and uneven colour.
  • A previous melanoma or other type of skin cancer.
  • A strong family history of melanoma.
  • Pale, fair or freckled skin, especially if it burns easily and doesn’t tan, and light-coloured eyes (blue or green), and fair or red hair.

Symptoms of melanoma

The first sign is usually a new spot or a change in an existing mole. In people who have lots of moles, melanomas stand out and look different from the other moles.

According to Cancer Council Australia, we should look out for the following changes or signs in spots or moles:

  • Size. A spot appearing or growing larger.
  • Colour. A mole that becomes increasingly blotchy with different depth and shades of colour
  • Shape or border. A spot that may increase in height, become scaly, have an irregular edge or lack symmetry
  • Itching or bleeding 
  • Elevation. A spot that may start as a raised nodule or develop a raised area, which is often reddish or reddish brown.

It’s a good idea to check your skin every three months, or as a recommended by your doctor. If you notice any changes on your skin, or have any questions or concerns about any symptoms you may have, talk to your GP.

Diagnosing melanoma

  • Physical examination. Your doctor will do a physical examination to check all parts of your skin.. If they find something they’re uncertain about you might be referred to a dermatologist. But if they find something suspicious they’ll recommend you have a biopsy.
  • Biopsy. If the doctor suspects that a spot on your skin may be melanoma, the usual procedure is to remove the whole spot for examination. The sample will then be sent to pathology.
  • Pathology. At the lab, a pathologist will look at your tissue under a microscope to see if it contains any cancer cells. You will likely have a follow-up appointment for you and your doctor to look at and discuss the results.

Treatment for melanoma

Your test results will help you doctor stage your melanoma, and this will then guide your treatment.

There are several treatment options available, including

  • Surgery -the most common treatment for early stage melanoma.
  • Cancer therapies- such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted molecular therapy

Your doctor will recommend the best treatment option for you, but make sure you talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you have about your treatment.

1 Cancer Council Australia (http://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/skin-cancer/melanoma.html)

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