All You Need to Know About Melanoma (Black Skin Cancer)
The number of skin cancers in the form of melanoma, i.e. black skin cancer, is constantly increasing. This number is now doubling almost every seven years. However, there are clear regional differences in melanoma disease.
What is melanoma?
The term “malignant melanoma” comes from the Greek, where the word “malignant” means “black”. Therefore it is also called black skin cancer. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Melanoma.
This is a particularly malignant tumor of the pigment cells. The aggressiveness of a melanoma is intensified by the early formation of metastases, which spread throughout the body via both the blood and the lymphatic system.
The black skin cancer can not only affect the skin, but also the eyes, mucous membranes, internal organs or the central nervous system. The number of cases of melanoma is not only increasing worldwide, but it is also the most common fatal disease.
The main cause of melanoma is exposure to strong UV rays from the sun. However, one reason for the increase in black skin cancer is not only the increasing UV radiation due to the declining ozone layer, but also the changed leisure activities.
Holiday trips by light-skinned people to warmer countries, excessive sunbathing and sports that are carried out in the blazing sun are increasingly exposing people with sensitive skin to aggressive solar radiation. The beauty ideal of tanned skin, which is equated with health and vitality, means that educational campaigns do not have the desired success.
However, certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of melanoma. Particular mention should be made here of severe sunburn in childhood, fair skin, freckles, a tendency to sunburn, DNA disorders, black skin cancer in the family or a previous melanoma.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Schematic representation of the anatomy and structure of the skin with black skin cancer. Click to enlarge.
In most cases, black skin cancer is diagnosed without the affected person noticing any symptoms. This is because melanoma rarely presents with symptoms that are not purely visual in nature. In rare cases, a melanoma can bleed, weep, itch or otherwise feel uncomfortable. A malignant melanoma can also develop under a nail. There may be discoloration here, and later the nail may become detached.
Basically, all changes in pigment spots and birthmarks tend to be a sign of the development of skin cancer. It should be noted that any stain that visibly changes or differs from other stains is of concern. For example, melanoma tends to be raised (occasionally with nodules), unidirectional, and not as sharply defined as birthmarks and pigment spots.
Rather, there is a blurred transition into the surrounding skin. If a birthmark grows suddenly, this is also a possible symptom. The same applies to birthmarks, which have different colors in themselves. Black skin cancer is not limited to black discolorations, but can also be brownish, yellowish or reddish.
Diagnosis & History
Signs of melanoma can be enlarged, discolored or itchy moles. But changes in color of entire skin areas can also be an indication of black skin cancer. In very dark-skinned people, melanomas are more likely to appear on light-skinned areas of the skin, such as on the palms of the hands or on the mucous membranes.
A regular independent examination of conspicuous skin areas can contribute to early detection. If there are any abnormalities, the exact diagnosis is made by the dermatologist with the help of microscopic images.
There are five criteria that can indicate a melanoma. These are: an asymmetrical shape, an indistinct or irregular border, multicolor, large diameter (more than 5mm) and a prominence of the skin area.
The course of a melanoma begins with an enlargement of the affected area. This is followed by a scattering to other areas of the body, including the organs.
Metastases in various organs are the most common complications of melanoma. While early-stage melanoma is still treatable, the likelihood of metastases increases steadily as it grows. Liver and brain metastases in particular are difficult to treat and reduce life expectancy, and malignant heart tumors are often caused by a malignant melanoma.
Lymph nodes, the skeleton and the lungs can also be affected by metastases, which manifest themselves in headaches, tiring quickly, seizures, a tendency to fracture bones and shortness of breath on low exertion. Left untreated, metastases from black skin cancer usually lead to death within a few years.
The only chance of healing is early surgical removal of the causative skin tumor, which in rare cases can also be associated with complications: the operation of a tumor that has already penetrated far into the tissue can result in functional restrictions in the affected area, as well as postoperative bleeding, wound healing disorders and excessive scarring are possible consequences.
If nerves are injured, it is not uncommon for signs of paralysis and sensory disturbances to occur, which recede again, but can also be permanent. In individual cases, to prevent further spread after the operation, radiation, chemotherapy or immunotherapy is necessary, which can weaken the immune system and severely impair general well-being.
When should you go to the doctor?
Melanomas are always a case for a doctor’s visit, because black skin cancer spreads to surrounding tissue structures faster than it looks. At first glance, a melanoma often appears harmless and patients tend to mistake it for a birthmark, especially since melanomas can also arise from existing changes in the skin. Below the surface of the skin, however, the cancer has access to the lymphatic system and can quickly spread to other organs if it is not detected in time and surgically removed. In particular, people with many birthmarks and pigment spots should regularly check the affected skin areas for changes.
If a mole increases in size, changes its color, looks raised or otherwise changes its visual appearance, this should be clarified by a dermatologist. He will first take photos of the skin area and document the development. If, on the other hand, such a skin area bleeds for inexplicable reasons, is more sensitive than usual or causes pain, the doctor must quickly clarify whether it is a melanoma. Even with already known melanoma, those affected should regularly keep an eye on the surrounding skin areas. If moles change or new ones appear, the treating doctor should examine them and determine whether they are harmless changes or new melanomas.
Treatment & Therapy
When treating melanoma, it is important to diagnose it as early as possible. If this is completely removed in the early stages, the chances of a complete cure are very high.
The main form of treatment is surgery. The melanoma is removed as completely as possible. This means that a safety distance of around 1 to 2 cm is maintained, depending on the size of the skin cancer. The melanoma must also be removed as deeply as possible down to the muscle. A biopsy sample is not taken to avoid spreading the black skin cancer.
In the case of a melanoma on the face, the safety distance can also be replaced by a cutting procedure controlled under the microscope. This prevents facial disfigurement.
However, if the melanoma has already formed metastases, the chances of recovery are very low. Different therapy methods such as chemotherapy, immune therapy, vaccination or radiotherapy are used. However, these usually only lead to a short-term improvement in the state of health.
Further surgical interventions to remove newly formed melanoma tumor cells can also be carried out.
Outlook & Forecast
People between the ages of 40 and 60 are considered a risk group for a disease. They are disproportionately diagnosed with melanoma. Men mostly get sick on the back, women on the lower leg. The prognosis is favorable if the tumor is removed early. Metastases have not yet formed. An exclusively superficial growth can be successfully treated.
Statistically, the diagnosis of “black skin cancer” affects one in five hundred Germans. Ten years after the diagnosis, around 90 percent of the men affected and a good 95 percent of the women affected are still alive. The deaths are usually due to the fact that metastases were able to spread to the organs. If colonies have formed in the liver, lungs or brain, there is a high probability of death within the next few years.
The size of the melanoma is also meaningful with regard to the chances of survival. Characteristically, it grows in a non-specific way. If the expansion is only one millimeter, the chances of survival are considered very good. The small size suggests a tumor in the early stages. With larger growths, the chance of healing decreases continuously.
In order to prevent the development of melanoma, intensive UV radiation on the skin should be avoided. This applies to both natural solar radiation and artificial UV radiation in the solarium.
Sun protection clothing, hats and sunglasses should be used to protect against intense UV radiation. Furthermore, the use of sun creams with a high sun protection factor is of course recommended. This is especially true for children. Regular self-examination is helpful for early detection of skin changes. However, this does not replace regular visits to a dermatologist.
You can do that yourself
Melanomas, also known as black skin cancer, must be treated by a doctor. It is advisable in everyday life that people pay attention to changes in their skin. In particular, changes in birthmarks and changing pigmentation of the skin should be carefully observed and examined by a doctor. As a general precaution, the skin should be protected from strong sunlight, since UV radiation promotes the occurrence of melanoma. This measure is important to prevent melanoma, but it should also be followed if the person already has melanoma.
As with most cancers, not only is the body affected by the disease, but mental well-being can also be affected. A functioning social environment is important for those affected. Friends and family play an essential role in the healing process. In addition, those affected can seek psychological help. This help can take the form of psychological support or participation in a self-help group with other affected people.