Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when the pigment-producing cells in the skin, called melanocytes, become cancerous. While melanoma accounts for only a small percentage of skin cancers, it is responsible for the majority of skin cancer deaths. This is because melanoma has the ability to spread to other parts of the body, leading to life-threatening complications.
Melanoma begins as a small, dark spot on the skin that may resemble a mole. Over time, the spot may grow larger, change in color or shape, or develop irregular borders. These changes are signs that the melanoma is progressing and becoming more dangerous.
When melanoma cells break away from the original tumour, they can travel through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of the body. Once they reach a new location, they can begin to grow and form new tumours. This process is called metastasis and is what makes melanoma so deadly.
How does melanoma kill you?
Melanoma can kill you in several ways, depending on where it spreads to and how quickly it progresses. Some of the most common ways that melanoma can be lethal include:
- Organ failure. When melanoma spreads to vital organs such as the liver, lungs, or brain, it can disrupt their normal function and lead to organ failure. This can cause a wide range of symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, and confusion. If left untreated, organ failure can be fatal.
- Infection. Melanoma can weaken the immune system, making it easier for infections to take hold. Infections can be particularly dangerous if they occur in people with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
- Haemorrhage. When melanoma spreads to the brain or other vital organs, it can cause bleeding and haemorrhaging. This can lead to symptoms such as headaches, seizures, and vision problems. In severe cases, haemorrhaging can be fatal.
- Pain. As melanoma progresses, it can cause pain and discomfort in the affected area. This can be particularly distressing if the melanoma has spread to multiple locations in the body.
- Suicide. Melanoma can also have a psychological impact on patients, causing feelings of hopelessness and depression. In some cases, patients may even contemplate suicide as a way to escape their pain and suffering.
Factors that contribute to melanoma’s lethal nature
Several factors can contribute to the lethal nature of melanoma, including:
- Late diagnosis. Melanoma is often not detected until it has already progressed to an advanced stage. This is because early-stage melanoma can be difficult to detect without specialised equipment or training. By the time melanoma is diagnosed, it may have already spread to other parts of the body, making it more difficult to treat.
- Aggressive growth. Melanoma is known for its rapid growth and ability to spread quickly. This can make it difficult to treat and control, especially if it has already spread to other parts of the body.
- Resistance to treatment. Melanoma can be resistant to certain types of treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This can make it difficult to control and can limit treatment options for patients.
- Genetics. Some people may be more susceptible to melanoma due to genetic factors. For example, people with a family history of melanoma may be at higher risk of developing the disease.
Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer that can cause a wide range of complications and symptoms, ultimately leading to death. Understanding how melanoma kills you is crucial for patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals alike. Knowing the risk factors and warning signs of melanoma can help people catch the disease early and seek appropriate treatment before it spreads.
Regular skin checks, avoiding excessive sun exposure, and wearing protective clothing and sunscreen are some of the ways to reduce the risk of melanoma. In addition, early detection and prompt treatment can improve the prognosis and survival rates for people with melanoma. With increased awareness, prevention, and early intervention, we can help reduce the impact of melanoma and save lives.
David Radar, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.