For a small and relatively innocuous looking cancer, melanoma can prove to be totally deadly. Melanoma is a cancer paradox. If detected early, curative success rates can be as high as 95%-98%. Without fast, decisive intervention in the initial stages however and it can pan out as a completely different story. It’s hard to get your head around how something as small and insignificant as a mole can become life-threatening in as little as six weeks, it just doesn’t stack up.
How fast does melanoma spread?
To understand the gravity of melanoma, read the case study of Leland Fay, a male aged 46 living in Colorado. This guy had a small mole on his head removed by cryosurgery by a specialist clinic, picked up on a standard examination. The mole returned, bigger than the original.
It was biopsied and the patient was handed the startling news that it was indeed Stage IV melanoma. He had as little as six weeks to live. It’s nuts! Cancer that is totally curable at the offset can become a raging killer in a matter of weeks, how does that work exactly? For the record, this particular victim survives thanks to aggressive and ongoing treatment. Hopefully, his story bears witness to how fast melanoma does spread.
How fast does melanoma grow?
There is a golden window with melanoma when it remains truly superficial, localised within the skin. Stage Zero, described medically as, ‘in situ’, indicates that the melanoma is non-invasive, confined within the top layer of the skin. Invasion into the dermis, Stages I and II, still results in pleasing survival rates of nearly one hundred per cent. How fast the melanoma grows does depend on whether it spreads or, a technical term metastasizes into the lymph nodes, the first port of call for melanoma.
The Lymphatic System
The Lymph System is the motorway network of the human body, a lattice of miniscule vessels or tubes. It is multi-functional. It moves around chyle from the digestive tract, a milky substance with fat droplets, fatty acids and excess fluid that sits external to the cells. Lymph tissue is located in locales as diverse as the tonsils to the spleen, bone marrow to the thymus gland. Melanoma first metastisizes by leaching melanoma cells into the lymphatic fluid. It is easy to see how the channels then transport them to different parts of the body via the lymph nodes. There is also lymphatic tissue in the liver, heart, lungs and intestine.
Where are lymph nodes sited?
Lymph nodes are small exchange hubs where chemicals and other systemic products can be deposited before transportation to other areas of the body. Critically, lymph nodes contain lymphocytes which are white blood cells and one of the main components of the body’s immune response. There are multiple lymph nodes in the head and neck, also a popular location for melanoma.
Where can melanoma land up?
Once a melanoma gets on the move, classified as ‘in transit’, it is categorised as Stage III. If cancerous cells arrive at the lymph nodes, survival rates lower dramatically as from here, distant organs and parts of the body are accessible. Odds drop to 62%. On arrival at remote sites in the body, the melanoma is classed as a Stage IV. Five-year survival stats reduce even further to 18%. The advent of new therapies is impacting on Stage IV patients with some impressive life-prolonging results. But there is no substitute for early detection and prompt treatment.
Different skin types versus the risk of developing melanoma
Clearly, burning your skin is very dangerous and pale complexions are more prone to this than olive or darker skins. But it is fallacious to be relaxed and indifferent to the risk of melanoma just because you tan well and don’t have a propensity to burn.
The risk is simply lower not absent. When melanoma is detected in people with very dark skin and naturally higher melanin levels, it is often far more advanced and harder to treat with a guarded prognosis.
Go with your own glow
The Go With Your Own Glow campaign is a movement by the Skin Cancer Foundation designed to render the promotion and desirability of an artificial tan as obsolete, unfashionable and unflattering. It is a message of prevention via education. This crusade has some top name publicity including features in New York Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and glowing billboards in Times Square in New York. They pull no punches and are shameless in their presentation of the damage sun wrecks on the skin, from both a beauty and a health perspective.
Have a skin check
An annual skin check is as vital as your eye test or a regular trip to the dentist. It involves every inch of your body so do you dare to bare? Melanoma can strike in areas not even exposed to the sun. Anything suspect or unusual will form the subject of a biopsy, commonly performed there and then with little pain or discomfort. A tiny sample gathered and sent to the laboratory for analysis. This is such an easy and simple way to stay safe from melanoma.
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