Melanoma, Sun and Genetics | An Overview of Skin Cancer

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Many of us have read in recent times the link between melanoma and UV exposure melanoma and genetics. It makes me wonder how many actually understand the meaning of it all.

I have found that older generations generally understand the importance of paying a visit to a doctor to check their skin, while the younger generations do not. Speaking with teens who have attended my clinic, it’s obvious their awareness stems from the proactive encouragement of their parents, sometimes after loosing a close relative or friend.

Awareness of skin cancers seems to follow exposure through experience, or campaigns. I truly believe we are all sometimes afraid to admit when we feel something is not quite right with our health, but proactive involvement and support from friends and family can make a huge, potentially life-saving, difference.

In order to understand the complexity of genetics and melanoma, we first need to understand our skin. What are melanocytes? And what is a melanoma? We will talk about melanoma, the different types, UV light, genetics, and sun protection, in my next column. But for now, lets get our basics right.

Our Skin…

The largest organ of our body, it protects us, regulates temperature and touch. The skin has three layers, the layer of interest in this column is the epidermis which provides protection, hydration and skin colour. In this layer are cell types which can become cancerous, such as keratinocytes (95%, barrier associated squamous cell carcinoma) and melanocytes (5-10%, pigment, melanoma).

Melanocytes…

Melanocytes are found in skin, eyes, inner ear, meninges (covering layer of brain and spine), bones, and heart. The job of melanocytes is primarily to produce melanin, a protein, that gives colour to our skin, eyes and hair. Melanin can be dark (eumelanin) or red (pheomelanin), and pigmentation is one of the risk factors for melanoma.

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