Skin Cancer: Melanoma
Skin cancers, including melanoma, are mainly caused by mutations to our skin cells by UV light – either from the sun or sunbeds. Melanoma is relatively uncommon, but still affects around 16,000 people a year in the UK.
It may start in a mole on your skin, or it can appear on skin that looks quite normal. In most cases melanoma can be effectively treated and cured, but it is important to catch it early as it can spread to other parts of the body.
What is melanoma?
Melanin is a pigment that helps protect us from the harmful effects of sunlight and is made by cells in the top layer of our skin called melanocytes. Moles and freckles are harmless clusters of melanocytes.
Frequent and intense exposure to sun can sometimes cause melanocytes to multiply dangerously and this can eventually lead to melanoma - those with a lot of moles or freckles, or a family history of the disease, are more at risk.
Thankfully, in most cases melanoma can be treated and cured, with a straightforward surgical procedure. Sometimes however, the cancer can spread - that’s why early detection is extremely important.
What are the symptoms of melanoma?
Most of us will have a few moles – a flat or raised coloured spot on the skin – and they are usually harmless. However, if you have noticed a change in the appearance of a mole, or a new one, it could be the first symptom of melanoma. The most commonly affected areas are parts of your body that have been exposed to the sun – such as your back, legs, arms or face.
If you find a mole that is changing in shape, size or colour, it is always a good idea to have it checked out by a dermatologist. Signs to look out for include asymmetry, an irregular or ‘fuzzy’ border, changes to colour or any growth in diameter. Any one of these symptoms can point to melanoma.
What causes melanoma?
Frequent and intense exposure to the sun, particularly if you have been sunburnt, is one of the leading causes of melanoma. So you should always cover any exposed skin if you are going to be in the sun for any length of time and use sunblock.
Some people have a lot of moles, and this often runs in families. This increases your risk, as does a family history of melanoma. If you have moles that are quite large (over 8 mm in diameter), you should get them examined by a dermatologist.
If you have pale skin that burns easily, or have lived in hot sunny countries you’re also more at risk - so it’s a good idea to carry out regular checks on your skin.
What should you do if you’re worried about melanoma?
Most cases of melanoma are relatively simple to treat, but it is important to diagnose the disease quickly, to prevent it spreading and becoming more serious. So if you find any changes to your moles or anything new or unusual on your skin it is worth seeing a specialist as soon as possible.
Our team of Consultant Dermatologists include some of the UK’s leading skin cancer specialists, and they are highly skilled in diagnosing and treating melanoma. They are renowned experts in their field and offer cutting-edge treatment for all types of skin cancer, including melanoma.
Can melanoma be cured?
Melanoma is a very curable cancer if caught early. Treatment usually involves minor surgery to remove the mole, with a microscopic analysis carried out on it afterwards, to confirm the diagnosis. This can often be done on the same day.
If your cancer has spread you may need more extensive surgery or other targeted treatment and our team of experienced Consultant Dermatologists will be on hand to support you during every stage of the process.
We know that being diagnosed with skin cancer – particularly melanoma – can be frightening. Whatever you are facing, our dedicated team of Consultant Dermatologists will guide you on the best treatment plan for your needs.
Visiting our clinic
If you are worried about any changes to your skin and would like to find out more, or make an appointment with one of our Consultant Dermatologists, please call us on 020 724 4200.