The incidence of melanoma has increased very rapidly in Finland. The number of cases has doubled in less than 10 years. Forecasts suggest that the incidence of melanoma will continue to rise in the near future, since the epidemic is due to the much greater interest in sunbathing since the 1970s. Melanomas develop slowly, owing to which the change is only being seen now. The sun is the greatest single risk factor for melanoma.
Other common skin cancers include basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.
With melanoma, it is important to identify any suspicious skin change as early on as possible. For this reason, any skin changes that look unusual should be investigated. Melanomas can start in an existing mole or birthmark, but most start in normal, healthy skin. They may take many different forms in appearance. An alarming sign is a very black, uneven change with unclear edges.
The treatment of melanoma is surgical and a melanoma is always operated on if possible. There are many different types of melanoma. A doctor will assess the need for treatment and the surgical procedure to be used, depending on the cancer type. Patients are monitored for five years following surgery.
The removal of the growth is sufficient treatment for a melanoma if it is discovered very early on. The risk of metastasis increases, however, if the melanoma has time to grow thicker. In such a case, an operation should also be accompanied by an examination of the lymph nodes (sentinel node examination). In the case of melanomas that have spread, operations to remove areas of the lymph nodes are performed, and medication and sometimes radiation therapy are often given.
The treatment of melanoma and the planning of that treatment must always be the responsibility of a multiprofessional team well versed in cancer treatment. The treatment of melanoma at Helsinki Hospital is planned as collaboration between properly qualified plastic surgeons, pathologists, and cancer specialists.