Melanoma is described as malignancy of melanocytes. These are cells found throughout the epidermis layer, in mucosal membranes and uveal tract in eyes. While it is the rarest, melanoma is responsible for about 65% of all deaths related to skin cancer. This is higher than other two types combined.
Some melanoma cells divide faster than others. Resulting tumors are therefore more invasive. People with a history of long exposure to sun are at higher risk of developing the more aggressive melanomas, expect for foot melanoma. Experts predict that women who regularly use tanning beds may develop more deadly melanomas in the future.
Head and neck areas are common sites for melanoma on face. About 80% are found in these regions, especially on cheeks. The scalp makes up for 3%, 7% for outer ear while the neck region makes up for 6.5%. Survival rate for metastatic melanoma on head is very low. It is set at about 20% for 5 years and below 15% for 10 years.
Melanoma on head symptoms, causes and treatments
Common sites for melanoma on head are face, neck, scalp and ear. More cases are reported in men compared to in women. Age seems to be a contributing factor since most incidences occur in older people.
Most people will notice early signs of a melanoma on head. This is because they revolve around an evolving blemish or mole. The ABCDEs are used to identify suspicious moles. See more details here what does melanoma skin cancer look like.
- Asymmetry (A) – for normal moles, its two halves will mirror each other. Malignant ones often don’t allow for a line of symmetry.
- Borders (B) – if carefully inspected a normal mole, you will realize that it has very well defined edges. Most are round but can also be oval. Melanomas lack this quality.
- Colors (C) – dark, red and brown are the common colors for normal moles. While melanomas will also likely have any of these colors, there will also be another additional color such as blue, orange or green.
- Diameter (D) – moles are usually small, less than 3 mm in diameter. When a skin blemish or growth continues to grow in size or reaches the size of a pencil eraser, it should be checked immediately.
- Evolution (E) – adults can have up to 20 or more moles. This doesn’t mean that the benign tumors will keep changing in size, texture or shape with time. If this happens, you may be dealing with a melanoma.
The full process by which melanocytes start dividing out of control and fail to die naturally is not fully understood. But since more aggressive types and more cases are reported in people with a history of excess exposure to sun, there are reasons to associate UV poisoning with the disease. Other risk factors may include;
- High number of moles or dysplastic nevi syndrome
- Fair complexion
- Family history of melanomas
- Older age
Diagnosis and Treatments
Diagnosis is done with physical examination and biopsy. If confirmed, imaging tests will be taken to check the level of invasion. Results will be used to stage the tumor as well as for prognosis.
Treatment is usually done with surgery, chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy. If tumors have spread, other options such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy will be considered.
Melanoma on scalp symptoms, causes and treatments
One thing that makes melanoma on scalp very deadly is because patients rarely catch it in time as it is obscured by hair. Late diagnosis is also a factor that makes spitzoid melanoma prognosis often poor. Additionally, the scalp receives a lot of direct sunlight.
Changes in a new or existing blemish or mole on scalp are the most common signs. The ABCDEs may prove quite helpful in this case. Since it is a bit hard to self-examine the scalp, you can consider help from a friend, a hair stylist or a dermatologist. It is also good to maintain routine skin checkups.
Just like melanomas on skin, it is not known how and what exactly causes melanocytes to divide aggressively and fail to die as they should. Genetic mutation is thought to play a big role. Risk factors include;
- Family history of melanomas
- Benign atypical moles
- UV radiation
- History of sunburns
- Excess sun exposure during childhood
- Use of devices such as tanning beds
Diagnosis and treatments
Doctors diagnose melanomas on scalp with physical examinations and biopsies. Treatment depends on the status of the tumor. First, diagnosis reports will be used to determine the stage of the tumors. The more advanced a scalp melanoma is, the more complex treatment will be required to be.
Excisional surgery is often used as the primary treatment option. Once the tumor has been removed, chemotherapy and radiotherapy may follow. Tumors that have spread require treatments such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy.
Melanoma on lip symptoms, causes and treatments
Melanoma on lip often is more invasive than other melanomas. Other than that, lip cancers are some of the most common types of oral cancer.
Lip melanomas often begin as a dark spot on lower lip. They tend to appear from nowhere and with no noticeable cause. Other symptoms that may occur include;
- Increasing in size
- Bleeding or ulceration
- Irregular borders
- Several millimeters thick
- No equal halves
- Multicolored, especially blue or white
Melanoma on lip is thought to develop in the same process that other melanomas do. Risk factors include;
- Excess alcohol consumption
- UV radiation
- Fair complexion
- Older age
- Being male
Diagnosis and treatment
Melanomas on lip are removed with surgery. Surgery is always the best melanoma in situ treatment. When necessary, other treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy will also be used. Tumors that have spread require a more advanced treatment approach. This includes use of drugs that target certain functions of cancer cells and drugs that boost the immune system.
Melanoma in the brain symptoms, causes and treatments
Melanoma in the brain is also referred to as brain metastases. It is a complication of melanoma and one of the most challenging to treat.
Symptoms revolve around neurologic signs. They may include;
- Numbness in hands and feet
- Loss of hearing
- Interfered vision
- Poor judgment
- Weakened muscle activities
- Difficulty walking
Melanoma in the brain occurs in about 6 out of 10 patients in stage 4 melanoma. Other risk factors include;
- Ulcerated melanoma
- Metastatic melanoma
- Head, neck, abdomen or trunk melanoma
Prognosis, diagnosis and treatments
Studies have shown that the brain provides a very conducive environment for melanoma cells to grow in. For this reason, it tends to be very aggressive and thus with poor prognosis. Until recently, life expectancy for multiple melanomas in the brain used to be 4-5 months. More advanced treatment procedures have improved this.
Doctors are able to predict brain melanomas based on patient’s symptoms and medical history. To confirm the diagnosis, imaging tests will be done.
Treatments vary wildly depending on the location of the tumor, size, number and general health status of the patient. The problem is that the brain is protected by a mechanism known as blood-brain-barrier. While it is very important, it keeps medications from reaching the brain. Some drugs may also damage vital tissues of the brain.
A team of doctors will come together to decide the best treatment approach. Available options include;
- Surgery – small or few tumors in the brain can be surgically removed. This is unless they are in vital brain areas.
- Radiotherapy – radiotherapy has traditionally been used to prevent further growth of tumors. Recently, forms of radiotherapy have been introduced which can specifically target certain spots in brain.
- Chemotherapy – drugs are administered to destroy cancerous tumors in the brain. In most cases, tumors treated this way don’t go away for good. The treatment is all the same effective especially for multiple and melanoma in lymph nodes.
- Targeted therapy – this is a recent treatment option. It is very effective in reducing growth rate of cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy – there has been growing evidence that immunotherapy may succeed in shrinking brain tumors at a high rate. This is especially if the tumors are small and not visible in imaging tests.
Melanoma is only fatal once the primary tumor has migrated and invaded other parts of the body. The best prevention measure therefore is to be on the lookout for any early warning signs and get them checked by a doctor. Topics such as what is uveal melanoma, mucosal melanoma symptoms and so on may help.
UV poisoning is considered one if not the most common skin and acral lentiginous melanoma causes. Measures such as wearing hats, applying sunscreens and avoiding use of tanning beds may also help.