• Fede Montagud, editor

    Melanoma, the ongoing scourge

    5 Dec Melanoma, the ongoing scourge



    El País

    International experts are warning us yet again: the number of melanoma cases is growing fast. Too much sun is considered to be the most direct cause of melanoma, which develops in the skin and can be fatal. Prevention is the best way to fight skin cancers. So what can we do to avoid developing melanoma?


    Skin cancers are the most frequent kind of cancer; 30% of Spanish people, for example, develop some form of this cancer. Melanoma is the most aggressive kind and, unfortunately, is the one that is experiencing most growth. These are the conclusions of the 6th World Meeting of Interdisciplinary Melanoma Skin Cancer Centres, which brought together around 1000 doctors and researchers from all over the world in Barcelona last November.


    Devastating data

    The figures cited by world experts are unfortunately pessimistic. More specifically, according to Catalonia’s 23 public hospitals, which serve one of the busiest tourist areas in Europe, cases of malignant melanoma have increased dramatically – by 50% in the last ten years.

    Melanoma, a form of skin cancer that develops in the melanocytes of the skin, is responsible for the greatest mortality rates. It is also one of the tumours with the greatest impact on loss of years of productive life, as it commonly occurs in women aged between 25 and 29 years and men aged between 30 and 34 years.


    Skin inspection

    When melanoma is diagnosed at an early stage, patient survival is, fortunately, close to 100%. If detected late, however, the prognosis is poor, with survival at five years below 10%. If a melanoma has not penetrated the skin or is less than 0.55 mm thick, it can be easily cured; however, if it more than 1.72 mm thick the prognosis is generally negative.

    The first conclusion is evident. For the sake of our health we should periodically visit a dermatologist or doctor, most especially if we detect any new or unfamiliar spots on the skin. Inspecting the body to detect any abnormality at an early stage is therefore crucial.


    Avoid the sun!

    What are the reasons for this dramatic growth in melanoma incidence? The world’s experts are in no doubt. Modern lifestyles, the growing popularity of outdoor sports, the cult of tanned bodies and concerns for our appearance are all factors that directly cause the figures to soar.

    Moreover, experts highlight the public lack of awareness of the need to avoid the harmful effects of solar radiation on the skin by all means possible. They recommend, for example, using sunscreen all year round.

    The second conclusion, therefore, and one we never tire of insisting on in this blog, is the need to be aware of the direct link between exposure to UV light (from the sun or in tanning booths) and the development of skin cancers.


    Familial melanoma

    Another factor playing a role in the development of melanoma is a genetic predisposition to develop the familial variant. Experts point out that, although melanoma itself is not inherited, the tendency to develop it can be inherited. Between 5% and 10% of melanoma cases occur in people with relatives who have developed this cancer. It is therefore important to find out if any close relatives have had the disease, since this knowledge is crucial for early diagnosis.


    New diagnostic techniques

    New non-invasive and painless skin cancer imaging techniques provide accurate diagnoses (over 92%) in the early tumour stages – opening up promising perspectives for disease prognosis.

    The recent large international meeting of dermatologists and skin cancer researchers has brought to the fore a major issue affecting the health of the skin and, unfortunately, the number of cases of melanoma continues to grow. The conclusions of the experts are that prevention is key to preventing skin cancers. Here is a summary of good practices:


    • Sunbathe sparingly and avoid artificial tanning
    • Always use sunscreen, even in winter
    • Inspect your skin regularly and treat any itchy, changing spot with irregular borders as suspicious
    • Periodically visit a dermatologist
    • Find out if any family members have developed melanoma