Due to several factors, the Australian population is at risk of developing skin cancer. Being one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world (two out of every three people living in Australia will battle some form of skin cancer before their 70th birthday), there is a need to underline the importance of early detection.
Melanoma rates are climbing throughout the country; Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that it has taken the lives of close to 1,500 people every year. With 14,000 new skin cancer diagnosis every year, the disease accounts for 11% of all cancers diagnosed in Australia.
According to the Cancer Data Australia Report in 2018, more than 2,100 people died of skin cancer in 2015 — more than 70% of those deaths (about 1,500) were due to melanoma. With melanoma taking the lead in annual skin cancer deaths, it is vital to look for the reasons why this form of skin cancer is fatal.
New research shows how melanoma spreads
Any time you detect an unusual mole on your skin, it is vital to have it checked and treated immediately. If left unchecked, melanoma can become life-threatening (malignant) in as little as six weeks. The swiftness of melanoma to metastasize through the body has stumped doctors for years.
Researchers in Tel Aviv, a city in Israel, may hold the answers. A team at KU Leuven recently reported finding what makes melanoma so aggressive — a subpopulation of tumour cells. But before understanding how the variety of cells found in a melanoma tumour can fire each other up, causing them to spread fast, you first must understand the progression of melanoma.
The Five Stages of Melanoma
Melanoma is classified in stages ranging from 0 to IV. The new guideline from the American Joint Commission of Cancer (AJCC) helps medical practitioners determine the stages of melanoma.
- Stage 0: An irregular mole (or tumour) is detected, and melanoma cells found. At this stage of the disease, the cancer remains localised within the epidermis.
- Stage I: Cancer cells have invaded the dermis, but still remains localised.
- Stage II: As the cancer grows, its cells become thicker and begin to show signs of spreading.
- Stage III & IV: As cancer cells begin to spread into lymph nodes and other parts of the body, melanoma becomes difficult to treat and often turns malignant.
The Spread of Melanoma
What takes some cancers months or even years to spread, melanoma cells can do in weeks. Researchers are only now beginning to understand how. There are three characteristics that allow melanoma to spread quickly throughout the body:
- 1. It is very efficient at evading host immune responses
- 2. It shares surface molecules with vascular cells
- 3. It is triggered by gene response
Skin moles are made up of a variety of cells, including melanocytes, which are cells designed to protect the skin from sun damage and slugs, which are gene-activated cells. When cancer invades any of these cells, a cellular process is activated, which allows them to spread to other areas of the body without going through the same longer-term processes necessary for standard cancer cells to do the same thing. This is why melanoma seems to spread so quickly — all of the body’s natural defences are shut down.
The aggressive behaviour of these cells to move allows melanoma to progress from a benign Stage 0 to a dangerous Stage III quickly, which can be especially risky if one is not on the lookout for skin changes.
Early detection is vital when it comes to melanoma survival. Research shows that the five-year survival rate for stage 1A and stage 1B melanoma is 97% and 92% respectively..
While regular skin checks are your first line of defence against this life-threatening disease, watching for new moles and obvious changes to those you already have may not be enough. A technology called mole mapping allows a professional team of melanographers and dermatologists to monitor even the slightest skin changes, thanks to comprehensive skin imaging that can be referred to anytime a new concern arises.
MoleMap is a key way Australians are detecting skin changes even before those cells become cancerous. Is there a mole that has raised some concern? Get yourself checked. Book a MoleMap check today.