Updated: Oct 28
Living, working, and spending time in sunny southern Spain certainly has its advantages: the Mediterranean climate, diet, and lifestyle we live here is a literal dream for so many. Life in the sun, however, doesn't come without its pitfalls and, unfortunately, one that we see all too often here at the Reisbeck private medical clinic in Marbella is melanoma, commonly known as skin cancer. Although this kind of cancer can -and does, strike anywhere in the world, the risks of developing it in Spain, specifically the south of Spain, are higher because it is more prevalent in warmer climates, This is because, UV rays from the sun are a major contributing factor to its development. Other risk factors for developing melanoma are having fair skin, a history of severe or continuous sunburns, genetic predisposition, a weakened immune system, and having a large number of moles on your skin, whether or not they are unusual in size or shape.
Melanoma, or skin cancer, is the development of cancerous cells in place of healthy ones in the body's melancynotes (the cells that produce melanin, or pigment, in the skin). Although why and how exactly this occurs is still not completely known, we do know that these cancerous cells grow from cells whose DNA has been damaged, often -but not always, through UV radiation. This means that people who live in sunnier climates, closer to the equator, or in higher elevations -where UV rays are naturally stronger, are more prone to skin cancer. The same goes for people that intentionally expose themselves to UV rays, like those from a tanning bed. Melanin, produced in skin cells, is the body's natural protection against UV rays, so fair skinned people (those with less melanin) are also at a significantly higher risk of developing melanoma.
Melanoma is not completely preventable, but the risk of developing it can be dramatically reduced by limiting your UV exposure, especially if you have any of the known risk factors. Staying indoors during the hottest parts of the day, wearing sunscreen and protective clothing, and avoiding sunbeds or sunlamps are the best ways to keep yourself safer from skin cancer.
Symptoms of Melanoma
When speaking of melanoma, doctors don't tend to refer to “symptoms” but rather “signs.” That's because there is often little to no pain or secondary effects of the cancer until it reaches an advanced state. Early on, though, your body will more likely than not develop signs that melanoma has developed in the skin cells. These are typically seen in one or more of five styles of moles that can develop on the skin, only one of which has little to no colour, meaning that they are often easily detectable if you know what you're looking for. These potentially cancerous moles can be any shape or size although they have a tendency to be slightly larger than usual or have an irregular colour or shape. They can also, but not always, be raised, get bigger over time, bleed, or ooze. A freckle or mole that's tender or sore to the touch can also be a sign of cancer, but this is not typical and a sore mole can often mean something far less serious, too.
In advanced stages of melanoma, if the cancer that developed in the skin has spread downwards to other organs in the body, depending on where it has spread to, a hard lump on the skin may appear, lymph nodes may become hard or swollen, rapid or unexplained weight loss could occur, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), stomach pain, or breathing difficulties could develop, or you may experience severe tiredness, backache that doesn't go away after resting, headaches, seizures, changes to personality or mood, confusion, weakness, difficulty speaking, and/or trouble seeing.
Melanoma, like all cancers, has the most successful treatment options when detected early, so it's important to understand your body and report any new or suspicious changes to it to your GP.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Melanoma is usually first detected by the patient when they notice an unusual freckle or mole on their body, or one that has changed in some way. It's important, then, to keep a close eye on your own skin so you can spot these changes. If you're noticed a freckle or mole anywhere on your body that has recently developed or changed, speak to your doctor who can, if they also suspect melanoma, easily confirm a diagnosis with a simple biopsy, which involves surgically removing the suspicious mole and examining it for cancerous cells. If cancer is detected, additional follow-up tests may be performed to check if the cancer has spread to nearby areas of the body, particularly the lymph nodes.
Surgically removing a mole that contains melanoma has a high success rate and even with a confirmed diagnosis of cancer, no further treatment us usually required. In some cases, however, and depending on your particular circumstances, melanoma can also -or additionally, be treated using immunotherapy (which uses your own white blood cells to fight off any remaining cancer), targeted therapy (a drug treatment that targets cells with specific genetic changes that may be causing melanoma to develop), radiation therapy (in which high-powered energy beams are focused on the cancerous cells to kill them), or chemotherapy (an intravenous or pill-based drug treatment that kills cancer cells).
Speaking to a Doctor About Your Melanoma Fears
If you suspect you have or might develop melanoma, and if for nothing more than to ease your mind, it's always best to speak with your GP about your fears. They can help you understand your risk, identify ways you can prevent skin cancer from developing, and learn more about how to detect suspicious moles or freckles on your body so that you can catch any sign of melanoma early on. At Reisbeck private health centre in Marbella, our internationally-trained and highly-experienced GPs and family doctors are always available to offer help and advice that is specific to your personal circumstances and medical and family history. Whether it be melanoma or any other health concern you have, from initial consultations, to diagnosis, to treatment, we believe in holistic health and a patient-centric approach to your well-being. We know that every patient is different so we don't do one-size-fits-all diagnoses or treatments, and our caring and expertly-trained doctors will always take the time to listen and understand your concerns and perform any tests you need to get the answers you seek but without any of the unnecessary exams or appointments that waste your time, energy, and money. And we take great pride in the fact that we treat all your health concerns with the most advanced treatment options, state-of-the-art technology, and expert skill and experience so you get the most successful treatment possible, no matter what disease, illness, or health concern you're facing.
To book a consultation with our Marbella GP, family doctor, or internalist for any reason, call us on +952 779 680, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out an online appointment request at http://www.doctorsmarbella.com/book-an-appointment