Melanocytes are cells that produce melanin. Melanin is the substance that gives the skin, hair and eyes their color. The largest numbers of melanocytes are found in facial skin. Smaller amounts occur in mucosal membranes and the uveal tract.
When malignancy starts in melanocytes, it is referred to as melanoma. It is considered the rarest of all skin cancers but most deadly. In fact, it accounts for about 65% of all deaths caused by cancers of the skin.
Most melanomas are reported in head, neck, trunk and legs. Head and neck areas account for most melanomas in males while ones on legs are more common in women. UV radiation and age appear to play a major role in development of this disease. In the head and neck areas, melanoma on nose makes up 3%, the ear 5%, while the face, mostly the cheeks, make up about 80% of all melanomas.
It will be justified to argue that melanoma is not fatal as long as tumors have not migrated from their primary positions. In fact, 5-year survival rate is usually more than 75% for stage 1 and 2 melanomas.
This changes drastically when the disease enters stage 3 and 4. In these latter stages, malignant cells migrate first into lymphatic system and then into distant organs such as lungs, liver, brain, bones and abdominal organs through blood vessels.
Melanoma in lungs symptoms, causes and treatments
Melanoma in the lungs can be primary or secondary. Primary lung melanomas originate in the lungs while secondary lung melanomas migrate from another body part, for example the conjunctiva. See what is uveal melanoma for more details. The former type is very rare.
Symptoms will most likely resemble those of lung cancer. They may include:
- Blood in cough
- Chronic cough
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
Primary lung melanoma is very rare and poorly understood. Exactly what causes melanoma of the lungs is not well understood. Risk factors may include smoking, carcinogens and genetic mutation.
Secondary lung melanoma is a complication of stage 4 melanoma.
Prognosis, diagnosis and treatments
Lung melanoma prognosis is usually poor. 5-year survival rate is set at 15%. 1 and 2 year survival rate is set at 52% and 30% respectively. And how fast does melanoma grow? Once it has invaded distant organs, the disease becomes even more aggressive. It may take years for tumors to reach the blood or lymphatic system, but less than a year to kill the victim.
Several tests are available for diagnosis. The most common one is use of a stethoscope for physical examination. Details on a patient’s medical history will be of help during this test. Biopsy is the most accurate diagnostic tool however.
Surgical excision is usually the treatment option of choice. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy may also be used to ensure complete removal of malignant cells. Recently, other treatments such as use of drugs that boost immune system’s ability to fight cancer have been developed.
Melanoma on breast symptoms, causes and treatments
Melanoma on the breast is more likely cutaneous than metastatic. Cutaneous melanomas on the breast are not common however. If metastatic, the melanoma will develop in the subcutaneous tissue (fat tissue) of the breast.
Cutaneous melanoma on the breast may resemble a changing blemish or mole on the breast skin. The following characteristics may also be present in the mole or blemish:
- Irregular borders
- Multiple colors
- Increasing diameter or thickness
- Lack of symmetry
- Gradual changes in physical features such as texture, shape and size
Melanomas on skin are thought to be caused by changes in DNA of melanocytes. The exact reason the mutations happen are not known. Some informed guesses include exposure to sun and devices such as tanning beds. Others include atypical moles, family history of melanomas, fair complexion and weakened immunity.
Subcutaneous melanomas in breasts are complications of stage 4 melanomas.
Diagnosis and treatments
Physical examination using the ABCDEs is commonly used to check for signs of malignancy in skin blemishes and moles. Regardless, a doctor can only confirm diagnosis after a biopsy test.
Surgical excision is often the treatment of choice. Depending on how invasive the melanoma has gotten, other options may as well be considered. Melanoma stages play a very important role in determining how treatment will proceed.
Melanoma in lymph nodes symptoms, causes and treatments
Melanoma in the lymph nodes is always metastatic. This means that it will have migrated from a primary tumor, most likely located nearby. Melanomas begin by spreading across as well as penetrating the skin. Since melanocytes are located in the epidermis, it will take some time before the developing tumor reaches the lymphatic vessels. Nodular melanoma is considered most invasive because it spreads deeper into the skin more than it does across. Once a melanoma has reached the lymphatic vessels, several malignant cells may escape into the vessels and be emptied into a local sentinel lymph node. This marks stage 3 of a melanoma tumor.
Once invaded, lymph nodes will most likely swell. This can be felt as a lump under the skin in areas such as the groin, armpit and neck. More than one lymph node may swell. Some patients may also experience fever. Note that there will be a primary tumor before the lymph nodes are involved. You can consider learning more on how to identify melanomas on topics such as what does vulvar melanoma look like.
Lymph nodes produce lymph, the fluid that filters germs and waste materials from blood. Melanoma cells reach lymph nodes through the lymphatic system in the 3rd stage of primary melanomas.
Diagnosis and treatment
A doctor will first perform a physical examination. This is to check for swollen lymph nodes. Patients may be required to provide details on symptoms and their medical histories. A sentinel lymph node biopsy is the most accurate diagnostic tool. During the test, a dye will be injected where a primary melanoma has been removed. It will then be traced as it circulates in local lymph nodes.
Affected lymph nodes are usually removed with surgery. To ensure that all or most malignant cells have been eradicated, chemotherapy drugs may be prescribed. Radiotherapy may also be used for further treatment.
Melanoma on back symptoms, causes and treatments
The back is one of the most common areas for melanoma on skin. This is especially for people who spend a lot of time outdoors or who have a history of exposure to sun during childhood.
Melanoma on the back is cutaneous. In most cases, cutaneous melanomas begin as changing moles or skin blemishes. Most can be caught early with the help of the ABCDEs.
- Asymmetry – this describes the overall shape of the mole or blemish. If a line to cut the mole in two equal halves cannot be drawn, medical diagnosis is necessary.
- Borders – this describes the outline of the mole’s edges. For normal moles, the borders should be clearly defined and regular. They can be round or oval.
- Colors – the common colors for moles are dark-brown and red. If one has multiple colors, especially with some blue, orange or green, it should be checked immediately.
- Diameter – some people have blemishes and benign skin growths as big as pencil erasers. Melanomas start as small spots less than 1 mm in diameter. Suspicion should arise when the spots gradually get bigger especially after a short timeline.
- Evolution – evolution describes changes that may occur in the physical features of a spot or mole. These include size, shape, texture and color.
Other symptoms of melanoma may include ulceration, bleeding and a bit of pain.
Like other cancers, melanoma develops when changes occur in the instructions contained in a person’s DNA. What triggers the changes is still not understood. Risk factors may include:
- Having many atypical moles
- Exposure to UV radiation
- Family history of melanomas
- Old age
- Fair skin
- Weak immune system
It is not a guarantee that any of these risk factors will cause melanoma on the back. They only increase the chances of the disease developing.
Prognosis, diagnosis and treatment
Of the types of melanoma that can develop on the back, nodular melanoma has the poorest prognosis. This is because it spreads much faster compared to other types. Nodular melanoma is often characterized by a red nodule. Prognosis for in situ melanomas on back is very good. 5 year survival rate is about 80% or more. Once the lymphatic system has been invaded, the survival rate drops significantly.
Diagnosis is often one with physical examination. A dermatologist will most likely identify signs of malignancy. Computer models are sometimes used. Regardless, a biopsy test is the only way to confirm diagnosis. Here, a small tissue will be extracted and tested in the lab. Late diagnosis can be blamed for most deaths caused by melanoma. This is a common problem in amelanotic melanoma cytology and melanomas of the scalp, back, genitals, anus, eye and mucosa membranes.
Excision surgery is the most successful treatment option especially for in situ melanomas on the back. Imaging tests will first be taken to help set excisional margins. After that, the tumor will be cut out. Drugs that suppress growth of tumors and kill some malignant cells may be prescribed to ensure complete treatment. If the melanoma is showing signs of having spread, radiotherapy may be used to suppress the process. Other treatment options include administration of drugs that suppress tumors or drugs that boost the immune system. While most of these treatments may not remove entire tumors, they are quite effective for small melanoma removal.
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