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Turning The Tide On Metastatic Melanoma

Turning The Tide On Metastatic Melanoma

Metastatic melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that has been particularly prevalent in South Georgia for years. But there's good news on the horizon. With a strong emphasis on prevention, regular screenings, and the advent of new, cutting-edge treatments, we're seeing survival rates improve.

So what is metastatic melanoma, you ask? Why is it something we see more often around here? Who is at risk?

Archbold Medical Oncologist Dr. Amanda May has all the answers to your questions and more. Keep reading to learn about the impact and strategies Archbold is using to combat this severe condition in South Georgia and North Florida.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that originates in the melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing melanin, which gives skin its color.

“Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer because it can spread rapidly to other parts of the body if not detected and treated early,” says Dr. May.

What is Metastatic Melanoma?

Metastatic melanoma, also known as stage IV melanoma, occurs when cancer cells from the original melanoma site spread to other parts of the body. This spreading can affect vital organs, including the lungs, liver, bones, or brain.

“Unlike the earlier stages of melanoma that can be localized to the skin, metastatic melanoma is more challenging to treat and requires advanced medical interventions,” said Dr. May.

Dr. May added, “While melanoma accounts for only a small percentage of skin cancer cases, it’s responsible for the majority of skin cancer deaths, highlighting the importance of awareness and early intervention.”

Why is it Prevalent in South Georgia?

According to Dr. May, the higher prevalence of metastatic melanoma in South Georgia can be attributed to several environmental and lifestyle factors, including the following:

  • Sun Exposure
    South Georgia’s warm climate and outdoor lifestyle contribute to prolonged sun exposure, increasing the risk of UV radiation damage. UV radiation is a proven risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma.
  • Agricultural Lifestyle
    Many residents are involved in agriculture, leading to extended periods spent outdoors without adequate sun protection.
  • Healthcare Access
    There are challenges in healthcare access and disparities in health education, which can delay the diagnosis of melanoma, allowing it to progress to the metastatic stage.

Who is Most Susceptible to Developing Metastatic Melanoma?

While anyone can develop metastatic melanoma, Dr. May advises that several factors can significantly elevate your risk.

“Prolonged exposure to UV radiation, either from the sun or tanning beds, which can damage skin cells and lead to cancerous mutations,” said Dr. May. “People with fair skin, light eyes, and red or blonde hair are particularly vulnerable, as they have less melanin to protect against UV radiation.”

According to Dr. May, a family history of melanoma also increases the likelihood, suggesting a genetic predisposition to this cancer. Additionally, a history of severe sunburns, especially during childhood, can drastically raise the risk of developing melanoma later in life.

Recognizing the following risk factors is critical in taking proactive steps toward prevention and early detection of melanoma:

  • Age and Gender
    Older adults have a higher likelihood, with men being more susceptible than women. This trend may be due to less frequent doctor visits and poorer sun protection habits among men.
  • Skin Type
    Individuals with fair skin, light hair, and light eyes, who sunburn easily, are at a heightened risk.
  • Genetic Predisposition
    A family history of melanoma significantly increases risk. Those with a genetic predisposition may develop melanoma at a younger age.
  • History of Sunburns
    Repeated sunburns, especially blistering ones from childhood, escalate the risk dramatically.

The Impact of Early Detection

Catching melanoma in its early stages means treatment can begin sooner, which is often less invasive and more effective.

“Early detection through skin cancer self-checks can dramatically improve melanoma outcomes, says Dr. May. “Regular self-examinations help individuals recognize the early signs of melanoma, such as new moles or changes to existing moles.

Dr. May recommends that you pay attention to any changes in the symmetry, edges, color, size, and overall appearance of moles.

“If you spot anything unusual, consult your physician right away,” she said. “Additionally, it's important to schedule yearly skin examinations with a dermatologist to ensure everything is in check.”

Recent Advancements in Melanoma Treatment

In recent years, the field of oncology has seen remarkable progress in the treatment of metastatic melanoma.

"The advancements in targeted therapy and immunotherapies have been groundbreaking," explains Dr May.

As the name suggests, targeted therapies specifically target cancerous cells without affecting the surrounding healthy tissues, significantly improving patient outcomes. Immunotherapy, on the other hand, boosts the body's immune system to fight cancer more effectively.

“These innovative treatments have led to increased survival rates and are providing new hope to patients and their families in our area and across the country,” said Dr. May.

Metastatic Melanoma: Creating Awareness and Action

At the Archbold Cancer Center, we are dedicated to advancing community health through education, prevention, and cutting-edge treatments. We advocate for regular skin checks with a dermatologist, protection against UV radiation, and awareness of the warning signs of skin changes. Early detection is pivotal in the fight against melanoma.

By understanding more about metastatic melanoma, its prevalence in South Georgia, and the factors that increase susceptibility, we can collectively work towards reducing its impact on our community. Let’s protect our skin, protect our health, and protect each other.

For more information on cutting-edge skin cancer treatments available in South Georgia, visit the Archbold Cancer Center. To schedule a skin cancer screening with a dermatologist in our area, visit our online physician directory.