What’s Melanoma?

Isn’t melanoma just skin cancer? Yes, and a bullet is just a chunk of lead.

Hey, I didn’t know much about melanoma when I was first diagnosed either. I did know several people with “skin cancer,” and they treated it like an annoyance and nothing more. So I’m not surprised that lots of people hear “skin cancer” and assume it’s not serious.

But this is far more than an annoyance. Melanoma is generally considered one of the deadliest cancers around, especially if you don’t catch it early. (Of course it is. I have it, and I don’t believe in doing anything half-assed. If I’m going to get cancer, I’m going to get fucking CANCER, people.)

So here’s a brief melanoma primer and some links for further reading.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer, and there are three main types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Unlike the other types of skin cancer, which usually appear on skin that’s exposed to the sun, melanoma can show up anywhere. (UV exposure is still a risk factor though.) Often, melanoma develops when normal/healthy moles turn bad. But melanoma can also develop in other organs and even the eyes. When a pigment cell goes rogue, regardless of location, that’s melanoma.

Caught early, melanoma is usually treatable, but even caught early, not all cancer cells are created equal. Betty, for instance, is considered highly aggressive because of her mitosis rate (how fast her cells divide to form new cells). And since melanoma can metastasize (have cells break off the main tumor and travel elsewhere), all it takes is a single, undetectable cell escaping the doctor’s knife to cause future problems.

Melanoma is significantly on the rise in people (especially women) under age 40, and unfortunately, so is its death rate. If you have a lot of moles, spend lots of time in the sun, have a family history of skin cancer, and you haven’t seen a dermatologist for a screening? Stop reading and go make an appointment.

I don’t want to regurgitate information when the internet is full of reliable material. So here are some sites that will provide more detail:

Mayo Clinic
National Cancer Institute
Skin Cancer Foundation

One thing I absolutely want to stress is that just because you don’t have moles that fit the classic melanoma profile, don’t take your health for granted. Betty showed none of melanoma’s warning signs, and so far, she hasn’t followed the normal path of progression.

Go forth and try to stay healthy.