Over the course of the last century, incidents of melanoma have steadily increased. There are various factors behind this trend, but chief among them is radical lifestyle changes adopted by people. As societies became more and more industrialized, activities involving sun-exposure had correspondingly declined. No more do a majority of people spend hours in the farm or participate in communal outdoor activities. With our bodies and skin thus conditioned to minimal sunlight, sudden bursts of exposure could prove dangerous. With tanning of skin becoming an obsession among fair-skinned women, young white women are particularly at high risk for developing melanoma. There is also an environmental dimension to the steady rise of skin cancer cases across the world. This has to do with the depletion of the earth’s ozone layer. This allows an excessive amount of Ultra Violet radiation to filter through the atmosphere. Although application of sunscreen and protective clothing somewhat mitigates the harmful effects, one cannot be on the guard at all times. The bio-pathology of melanoma is described thus:
“Melanoma is a malignancy of melanocytes–the cells in the upper part of our skin (the epidermis) that are responsible for pigmentation of the skin. These cells can become malignant because of exposure to ultraviolet light–a condition called malignant melanoma.”
There are three types of malignant tumours of the skin – melanoma being one of them. Basal cell carcinoma and Squamous cell carcinoma are the other two varieties. Rarer forms of skin cancer include “mycosis fungoides (a type of lymphoma) and Kaposi’s sarcoma.” (“Skin cancer,” 2014) Statistically, melanoma has far lesser occurrence than basal or squamous cell carcinomas. The latter two are caused by disruptions to epithelial tissue DNA. These two types of skin cancer are seldom witnessed in dark-skinned people. Those at high risk for acquisition are light-skinned, blue-eyed people whose are disposed to tan poorly. Face and limbs are the most likely areas of onset of cancer. A saving grace for these two variants of skin cancer is that the rate of fatalities linked to them is quite low. But in the case of melanoma, the statistics paint a dark picture.
Even within the broad classification of melanoma there are varieties. For example, one variety, called lentigo maligna accounts for 5% of all occurrences. It is manifest in the face or neck of people above 50 years. Since the cancer can lie in a dormant state for many years, identifying it early and treating it can be relatively easy. Likewise, we have a variety called acral lentiginous melanoma. It afflicts fingers of toes and brown-skinned people are at high risk. Between 2-8% of all melanomas are of this type. Another variety is the Amelanotic melanoma, which is very deadly. Fortunately it is also quite rare. It is “not a typical dark mole that you can see on the skin. It appears like a tan, benign lesion. Eventually, it will bleed, ulcerate, grow rapidly or itch, which would be an indication for a biopsy. The doctor can perform a biopsy and make the diagnosis, but often by that time the melanoma has invaded deeply, so the prognosis may not be good.” (Begg, Huang, & Berwick, 2006) Doctors will also have to probe for the presence of dysplastic or atypical nevi are markers for melanoma. So when dermatologists see a person with multiple dysplastic nevi, they