Understanding Melanoma

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 14,825
    Tim Turnham, Ph.D., of the Melanoma Research Foundation provides an overview of melanoma, including symptoms, treatment, prevention, and research.

    Tim Turnham: Hi! I am Tim Turnham with the Melanoma Research Foundation. Today, I am talking about melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer and the fastest growing cancer in the world. Many people know little about melanoma. Some even think it's nothing to worry about, yet every hour of every day someone in the United States dies of melanoma. It is the leading cause of cancer for women in their upper 20s and the second most common cancer for everyone aged 14 to 29.

    So what is melanoma?

    Melanoma is a cancer of a certain kind of cells called melanocytes. These cells are mostly in the skin, but also can be in other places; the eye, the mucosa linings of the nose or rectum or vagina, or even under the fingernails or toenails. Melanoma can occur in any of these locations.

    The skin is the largest organ in the body and it is exposed to tremendous stress. For example, the skin is exposed to UV radiation and this causes damage to the DNA and skin cells. Skin cells also are continually growing and sometimes as part of that growth, a cell makes a mistake resulting in damage in the genetic code.

    Most of the time the cells are able to repair the damage or the body will recognize that something has gone wrong and remove the damaged cell. Sometimes, however, the abnormal cell is able to escape detection and this results in cancer.

    If melanoma is found early, it is easily treated with simple outpatient surgery. If it is not caught early, it can spread to the lymph system or even to blood vessels. These systems act like super highways and allow melanoma cells to travel to other organs and create new tumors.

    Once this happens melanoma is very difficult to treat. As with most cancers, a melanoma diagnosis involved determining the stage of the disease. There are four stages of melanoma and each stage means that melanoma has moved deeper into the skin or has spread to other part of the body.

    Few good treatments exist for people with stage four melanoma. The Melanoma Research Foundation or MRF was started to address this problem. MRF was established in 1996 by people who had been affected by melanoma. They understood that the only way to find better treatments for this cancer is through research.

    Over the years the MRF has distributed millions of dollars to find the very best science that can impact melanoma. What is become increasingly clear is that any real advance will be made by combining two or more drugs to work in combination.

    To help accelerate this approach we recently launched the MRF Breakthrough Consortium. We are convinced that this approach will shorten the timeframe to new treatments and cures by several years.

    If you would like to learn more check out our other videos on melanoma including risk factors and prevention.