Among many other types of cancer, skin cancer- and melanoma in particular is highly ignored type of cancer in India. Though it is as fatal as other cancers, very less is known and researched about it. The symptoms are very hard to find and thus, treatment further takes a longer time and it gets out of control. However, it is very important to know the risk factors of the disease. Let us take a look-
Ultraviolet light exposure
UV rays exposure is considered as the major risk factor for melanomas. Exposure to harsh sunlight for a long time results in UV ray exposure. Even though UV rays are a very small part of sunrays, they damage the skin cells. When the damage affects the DNA of genes, they cause skin cancer. Though not popular in India, sun lamps and tanning beds used for artificial tanned skin are also the sources of UV rays.
When there are frequent sunburns in an early age, it results into development of melanoma on chest and back.
Weakened immune system
Healthy immune system is very important in fighting any diseases and overall well-being. However, people with weak immune systems because of certain diseases or treatments have increased risk of developing many cancers, like melanoma.
For example, when patients get an organ transplants, they are usually given medicines that help prevent them from rejecting the new organ. Those medicines weaken their immune system that increases their risk of developing melanoma. People infected with HIV also have an increased risk for melanoma.
Family history of melanoma and genetic factor
If any of your close relative (first-degree) has suffered from melanoma, your risk of getting it is higher than the general population. Close relatives include – parent, siblings, or child. Almost 10% have a family history of melanoma out of all the cases of the disease. This can happen due to the common lifestyle shared among the family members or specific genetic mutations among the family line or combination of both the factors.
Personal history of skin cancers or recurrence
Recurrence of melanoma affects about 5% of the total melanoma patients. It is possible than it occurs again after the first one has been treated. The people who earlier had other types of skin cancer also have an increased risk of melanoma.
A mole is a pigmented tumor. Babies are not usually born with moles; they often begin to appear in children and young adults. Most moles will never cause any problems, but a person who has many moles is more likely to develop melanoma.
Atypical moles (Dysplastic nevi) look a little like normal moles but also have a few characteristics of melanoma. They are usually bigger than the other moles and have abnormal size and/or shape. Dysplastic nevi is hereditery. Most dysplastic nevi never become cancer. People with above condition have highest risk of melanoma so it’s recommended that they go through regular skin check-ups.
Sometimes, congenital nevi are removed through surgery so the chance of those becoming cancer minimizes.
Older people are more likely to get melanoma; though it is also found among younger generation. It is one of the commonest cancers found in patients younger than 30 years of age. Usually, the hereditary melanoma occurs at an early age.
Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) is a rare condition that destroys ability of skin cells to repair their damaged DNA. It is inherited. People with this condition have a greater risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers when they are young, especially on sun-exposed areas of their skin.
Preventive tests like Hereditary screening panel can help to detect the risks of melanoma.