There are two main categories of skin cancer, namely, melanoma (malignant melanoma) and non-melanoma. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the incidence of both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers has been increasing over the past decades, and WHO estimates that a 10 % decrease in ozone levels will result in an additional 300 000 non-melanoma and 4 500 melanoma skin cancer cases globally.
The National Cancer Registry (NCR) has reported the following incidence, namely that 22 712 South Africans were diagnosed with the most common skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) in 2019 and more than 2 166 were diagnosed with melanoma.
Melanoma among South African men is ranked 5th most prevalent cancer – 1 in 168 (NCR 2019) lifetime risk – and as the 6th most prevalent cancer among women – 1 in 266 (NCR 2019) lifetime risk – thus showing an overall increase in skin cancer numbers. This may be due to improved screening methods or an overall increase in these numbers.
Melanoma, is less common than other skin cancers, but it is the most dangerous.
“Metastatic” means that the melanoma has spread to one or more parts of one’s body. It is also referred to as ‘advanced’ or ‘Stage IV’ Melanoma. Although it cannot be cured, it can be treated.
Melanoma starts in the cells that make melanin, the pigment that gives colour to one’s skin. It can spread anywhere in the body, but it first tends to go to the lymph nodes (a network of glands that fight infection) near where it formed.
From there it can travel to organs like the brain, lungs, liver, and bones, as well as other areas of the skin — including places far away from where it started (what doctors call the “primary site”).