Who is at risk from melanoma?

65% of melanoma occur in an identifiable 15% of the population who are deemed to be at increased risk.

The known high risk factors are:

  • Family or personal history of melanoma
  • Large number of total moles
  • Moles known to be of increased risk such as dysplastic naevi
  • Large congenital moles (greater than 20 cms)
  • Fair skin, high juvenile sun exposure, tendency to burn easily or high exposure to solariums.

What causes melanoma?

  • The main cause of melanoma and other skin cancers is exposure to UV radiation from the sun and other sources, such as tanning machines in solariums.
  • Overall, exposure to ultraviolet (referred to as UVA or UVB) radiation from sunlight accounts for about 90% of the symptoms of premature skin aging and most of these effects occur by the age of 20.
  • Melanoma occurs more often in people who experience intense intermittent sn exposure, that is, on weekends or on holidays, rather than a little bit everyday. However, people who receive a lot of sun exposure, in a more continuous pattern, are also at increased risk.
  • The number of sunburnt experienced in early life, greatly increases the lifetime risk of developing melanoma.
  • Each time your unprotected skin is exposed to UV radiation, it changes the structure of the cells and what they do. Overexposure to UV radiation permanently damages the skin and the damage worsens with more UV radiation.

How can I prevent melanoma?

The prevention of the majority of melanoma’s is unbelievably simple. Slip. Slop. Slap.
By simply staying out of the sun when the UV radiation is at its highest – 11am to 3pm – applying 30+ sunscreen, wearing a hat, sunglasses and shirt and staying in the shade wherever possible.

How is melanoma treated?

Once a lesion has been identified as a possible melanoma it is removed and tested, or a biopsy of the area is taken, to determine if it is, in fact, melanoma and if so, how deep the diseased cells have spread through the layers of skin (epidermis or dermis). The results of this pathology dictates whether further surgical excision of the site is required and whether further tests are necessary to determine if other areas of the body have been affected.

Is there a cure for melanoma?

Most melanoma’s that are detected early are curable through wider excision of the cells surrounding the melanoma. Our most important measure however is prevention by minimising risk factors, regular skin surveillance (quarterly, 1st day of every season) for all any identifying and closer surveillance of the high risk groups. Spread to regional lymph nodes will involve more radical surgery but is still associated with a good prospect of cure particularly if involvement is still microscopic.

Is melanoma fatal?

Not necessarily. Most melanoma if diagnosed early and adequate surgery is performed will result in a cure. Some melanomas behave more aggressively either due to the biological properties of the cancer or as a result of late diagnosis. Additional treatment with radiotherapy, chemotherapy or immunotherapy has a small but very important role in management. Unfortunately melanoma still remain the most common form of cancer death in men and women under the age of 30 and men under the age of 50.