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Understanding Melanoma - Part 1

Posted on 23 November 2016

Melanoma is a cancer arising from the pigment cells of the skin ( these calls are called the melanocytes). To understand melanoma it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the structure of your skin and how the skin pigment system works.

Part 1: The Skin System

The skin is composed of 2 layers The EPIDERMIS and the DERMIS .

The superficial ( outer) layer of the skin is called the EPIDERMIS .This is the barrier between you and the outside world. It is composed for the most part by small cells (called keratinocytes). These cells divide and regenerate themselves constantly. A keratinocyte which is born on the bottom of your epidermis today will slowly move up the layers of the epidermis and get washed off in the shower in about 2-3 weeks.

The DERMIS is the structural layer of your skin. It provides the strength ,support and nutrition to the epidermis. The dermis is widely different in thickness in different parts of your body. In your eyelids it is very thin .On your back and soles of your feet it is very thick and strong. We normally divide the dermis in to the UPPER DERMIS (papillary dermis)and LOWER DERMIS (reticular dermis).

At the bottom of the epidermis sit the melanocytes . These are the pigment producing cells. Melanocystes are pigment producing factories. The melanocytes  produce packets of pigment which are passed off to the keratinocytes. This pigment is your protection from the UV radiation of the outside world.

So when the system is working normally if you expose your skin to the sun (on holidays for example)the sunlight stimulates the melanocytes to produce pigment. The packets of pigment are passed off to the new keratinocytes as they are formed over a period of days or weeks. As more of the new keratinocytes have a packet of pigment your skin becomes more pigmented ( "tanned").

The same process works in reverse.If you finish your holiday and return to work you stop exposing your skin to the sun. The melanocytes are no longer stimulated by the sunlight to produce pigment. The pigment production reduces and the new batch of keratinocytes which are produced now do not receive a packet of pigment. As the older superficial pigment filled keratinocytes get washed off in the shower and the new batch coming up beneath to replace them your "suntan" washes off and you skin goes back to your pre -holiday appearance.

This is the normal function of the system.

Now you have a basic idea of how the normal system works it will be easier to understand melanoma.

To get further information or to make an appointment to get the best treatment for your skin cancer contact Dr James Burt's rooms in Melbourne now.

Tags: Skin Cancer Melanoma

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