There are approximately 9500 new cases each year which has increased five times over the last 30 years.
Excess sunlight is the most likely reason and being fair skinned as the highest incidence of melanoma occurs in those of European extraction living in Australia and New Zealand, Scandinavians presumably because of travel to hot climates and the distribution of melanomas which are more common on the legs in females and the backs of males.
However, there are cases of melanoma, where there has been no history of sunburn or travel to hot places. Therefore as in most other tumours, there are a number of different types of melanoma which are not attributable to the normal risk factors. Other possible risk factors include prolonged or recurrent contact with coal tar or creosote.
There is a slightly increased risk of developing a melanoma if one of your family are affected. Malignant moles that develop before the age of 35 are more likely to be associated with an inherited disorder.
There is also an unusual inherited syndrome (FAMMM) where people develop more than 50 moles over their body and this is associated with an increase in malignant melanoma.
There are no known associations with diet but this may be beneficial in the specific treatment of melanoma and will be discussed in a separate section.
Symptoms and signs
The most important sign of a melanoma is any changes that occur in a mole. These include a change in colour, size, change in shape so it becomes irregular rather than round, bleeding or itching.
Surgery is the only treatment . As soon as a malignant mole is suspected, then it should be removed and sent to the pathology department to confirm the diagnosis.
If it is confirmed, your doctor may tell you to have further surgery to the same area to make sure that no tumour has been left behind.
Although, it is not routine practice, some doctors may suggest that the lymph glands draining the area of the mole are also removed.