Q. What is malignant melanoma?
A. Melanoma can be a serious disease in which cancer cells form in the skin. However, it does not always form in the skin. These are known as melanocytes (cells that colour the skin). Melanocytes make melanin, the pigment that gives skin its colour. They also form moles and it is known that having moles is a risk factor in melanoma.
Q. Is there a cure for melanoma?
A. When caught early, most melanomas can be cured after fairly minor surgery. In 80-90% of cases, melanoma can be removed with no recurrence. However, it can be more serious than the other forms of skin cancer, because it may spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body, for example, liver, lungs, brain etc. There is no doubt that it once melanoma has spread it can be very difficult to treat but a lot of research is being carried out into melanoma.
Q. What should I look for when checking my skin?
A. Unusual moles, any moles or skin lesions that are different to they were last time you checked. Moles that are bleeding, itchy, an odd shape or colour, raised, larger than normal and any skin issue you are not happy about.
Q. I used to use sunbeds when I was much younger and I still like to sunbathe. I have been burned several times. Do I need to be worried?
A. It is never advisable to use sunbeds or allow yourself to burn in the sun. Being burned can increase the chances of getting melanoma in later years. The thing to do now is realise the potential damage and start making changes. Avoid sunbeds and don’t lie in the sun unprotected. Remember to use good quality high factor sunscreen, stay out of the sun when it is at its strongest and protect the delicate skin of children.
Q. What type of cancer is melanoma?
There are three main types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Melanoma is treated differently to other skin cancers.
Q. If my GP says everything is fine and I’m still not happy, what can I do?
A. Ask your GP to refer you to a dermatologist. You know your skin better than anyone, and the skin of your child or partner. Make sure if you are concerned that your concerns are treated seriously.
Q. My melanoma is very thin and I’ve been told I’m stage 2, am I going to be ok?
A. Keep all your medical appointments and be vigilant with your checks. We speak to many patients who have been at stage 2 for years – caught early enough melanoma can be treated successfully.
Q. I don’t have a good relationship with my consultant, can I change?
A. Yes, you can ask to be referred elsewhere, but it is worth thinking about the travel if you are feeling ill. Most consultants understand your fears and will do their best to help you.
Q. I have been told that my melanoma is advanced and that I am at stage 4. What does this mean?
A. As a stage 4 melanoma patient, there is no doubt that your condition is serious. However, there have been great strides made in the treatment of melanoma in the last few years and there are now some treatments available to advanced patients that are life prolonging treatments and showing great promise.
The Melanoma Taskforce pathway document which can be read here is a very useful tool for patients.