Introduction

Photo of an older woman and doctor checking for skin abnormalities (PantherMedia / Alexander Raths) We all have moles or other small lumps and bumps that are a different color to the rest of our skin. This is perfectly normal and usually nothing to worry about. It is only rarely skin cancer.

Skin cancer comes in different forms. The main types are (malignant) melanoma, basal cell cancer (BCC) and squamous cell cancer (SCC). Basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer are sometimes grouped together and referred to as non-melanoma skin cancer. Melanoma, which often looks like a very dark mole, is the most widely known type of skin cancer. This is probably because some types are dangerous and can spread very quickly throughout the body.

Symptoms

Melanoma typically looks like an irregular mole. It is usually a dark or otherwise unusual color, and its size, shape and color can change over time.

Aside from these minor changes, melanoma does not cause any symptoms at first. People often don’t notice it, or think it might be something else, so melanoma may already have reached an advanced stage by the time it is detected.

Some melanomas form inside of an older mole, but they are very often entirely new skin growths.

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Causes and risk factors

There are a number of different factors that can increase your likelihood of developing melanoma. These include sun exposure, your skin type and family history.

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Prevalence

In recent years, melanomas have been discovered at increasingly higher rates worldwide. In Germany, about 24 out of 100,000 men and 23 out of 100,000 women developed melanomas in 2010. In other words, melanoma was diagnosed in a little over 18,000 men and women in Germany that year.

 

Table for men: This table shows how many out of 1,000 men will probably develop melanoma or die of it within the next 10 years.
Out of 1,000 men of this age … … this many will develop melanoma within the next 10 years: … this many will die of melanoma within the next 10 years:
35 1 fewer than 1
45 2 fewer than 1
55 4 1
65 6 1
75 6 2

 

Table for women: This table shows how many out of 1,000 women will probably develop melanoma or die of it within the next 10 years.
Out of 1,000 women of this age … … this many will develop melanoma within 10 years: … this many will die of melanoma within 10 years:
35 2 fewer than 1
45 3 fewer than 1
55 3 fewer than 1
65 4 fewer than 1
75 4 1

Outlook

There are different types of melanoma, and each progresses in a different way. Some grow on the surface of the skin for quite a long time and can be removed in a simple procedure. Others are more likely to spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system and then form metastatic (secondary) tumors in other parts of the body. If left untreated, these kinds can be fatal within a few months.

In Germany, more than half of all melanomas are detected at an early stage. On average, about 15 to 20 out of 100 men who have melanoma and 10 to 15 out of 100 women who have melanoma die within ten years of diagnosis.

Screening

Screening is aimed at the largest possible number of apparently healthy people. In Germany, skin cancer screening focuses on people aged 35 and over. The idea is to detect tumors before they can invade other tissue or form metastatic tumors, with the aim of being able to provide better treatment and increase the chances of a full recovery. Screening for melanomas mostly aims to lower the risk of dying from the tumor.

In skin cancer screening, the doctor closely inspects all of your skin, from head to toe. For the examination to be thorough, folds in the skin and mucous membranes need to be checked too. You can also keep an eye out for any skin abnormalities yourself.

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Prevention

Nothing offers 100% protection from melanoma. It is generally a good idea to avoid too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This mainly means not spending too much time in the sun without protection and not using tanning beds.

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Treatment

After melanoma is diagnosed, the first step is usually to try to remove it surgically. If it is already advanced or metastatic tumors have developed elsewhere, surgery is combined with other treatments such as medication or radiation.

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Further information

You can find information about using tanning beds on the website of the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, or BfS).

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?”

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