An important warning for us all with regard to skin cancer types. Today more patients than ever survive dangerous melanoma than in past generations, but the rate of death for one form of this disease hasn’t budged in 30 years.
Nodular melanoma accounts for 14% of melanomas that are diagnosed, but makes up a startling 37% of untimely deaths from the disease according to a recent study.
The reason this form of cancer contributes to so many deaths is that it doesn’t always look like what we expect to see. It can appear without warning on the surface of the skin and can be hard to spot because it’s often light or nearly colorless, and doesn’t adhere to the ABCD characteristics we’ve all been taught to look for.
Just like the more well known radial melanoma, nodular melanomas start out in skin cells that are called melanocytes that product melanin. Most melanomas stay in the skin’s top layer, going down no more than one tenth of a millimeter. Radial melanomas are easier to see as the diameter goes up.
For nodular melanoma the cancerous cells reach a point where they start to grow vertically, sending roots into the fat and other tissues of the body. The depth of the cancer determines how likely you are to survive. For a cancerous growth that goes 3.5 to 4 millimeters deep, only 60% of patients will live for five years.
This latest study examined over 100,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed between the years 1978 and 2007.
They saw that at least 20% of nodular melanomas were fatal. You should understand that there’s an acknowledged limitation of the work – not all physicians report the type of melanoma and the team was unable to double check the reports during the study.
While public health officials and others have done a great job of getting the word out about ABCD characteristics when it comes to identifying skin cancer, experts now believe other letters should be added to the mix to help identify the nodular types of these cancers. We’ve been taught to watch for any of these…
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