Khloe Kardashian has described how a “tiny little dot” on her face that she thought was acne was actually melanoma skin cancer.
“I have done one biopsy on this bump that I just assumed was a zit, turns out it’s not a zit,” she said during a recent episode of The Kardashians. “It’s melanoma and for my age, it’s incredibly rare.”
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can spread to other areas of the body, according to the NHS. The main cause is ultraviolet light, which is why it can be prevented with the use of sunscreen.
Kardashian (38) first revealed details of the tumour last October with posts on her Instagram Story.
“After noticing a small bump on my face and assuming it was something as minor as a zit, I decided to get it biopsied seven months after realising it was not budging,” she wrote.
“A few days later I was told I need to have an immediate operation to remove a tumour from my face.”
The removal, by Beverly Hills surgeon Dr Garth Fisher, was successful, she reported: “I’m grateful to share that Dr Fisher was able to get everything – all my margins appear clear and now we are onto the healing process.”
There are around 16,700 diagnosed melanoma cases in the UK every year, according to Cancer Research UK, but the vast majority (86 per cent) are preventable.
Here’s what you need to know about the skin cancer…
What is melanoma skin cancer?
There are two main types of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma.
Melanoma starts in skin cells called melanocytes, which make a pigment called melanin to protect the body from ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
UV rays can cause sunburn, which is a sign of damage to the DNA in skin cells. Over time, enough damage can cause cells to grow out of control and lead to cancer.
“All skin cancers are believed to be associated with sun exposure, including the UV rays from sunbeds or ‘tanning’ beds,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Natalia Spierings, author of Skintelligent: What You Really Need To Know To Get Great Skin.
“Luckily, melanoma is relatively rare, but non-melanoma skin cancer is much more common, so it is important to know about both types.”
What are the common signs/symptoms?
Melanomas can appear anywhere on the body, but are more common in areas that are often exposed to the sun – which is why you should always use SPF properly.
A new mole or skin lesion (an area that’s different from the skin around it) or a change to an existing one may be a sign of melanoma.
“Always see your GP straight away if you notice a change in a mole,” says Spierings. For example if it “has gotten larger, darker, is bleeding, or has in anyway changed at all”.
Just as Kardashian thought her tumour was a zit, remember that melanomas don’t all look the same.
Spierings says: “Not all skin cancers are brown, so any new lump or bump on the skin including the face should be looked at by a doctor to ensure it is not a cancerous growth.”
How is it diagnosed?
“If you have any worries, take a picture [of your mole or skin lesion] and contact your GP,” says Susanna Daniels, CEO of Melanoma Focus.
“They may ask you to come in or ask you to send the picture to them, which may be sent through a secure messaging system to a dermatologist for review.”
If your GP thinks you could have skin cancer, they will refer you to a dermatologist for further investigation.
The dermatologist will examine your skin and ask about any changes you have noticed.
“Your moles are like fingerprints – they are personal to you, but each one should be very similar under a dermatoscope, a magnifying light specifically made to look at moles,” Spierings explains.
They may decide an excision biopsy is needed – when the mole or lesion and a small area of surrounding skin is removed and sent to a lab to be tested for cancer.
If the melanoma is cancerous, you’ll usually need more tests to see if the melanoma has spread, which may include blood tests, a CT scan or an MRI scan.
How is it treated?
Treatment will depend on where the cancer is, if it has spread and your general health.
Surgery is the main treatment, especially if the melanoma is detected early.
Procedures may be needed to remove the melanoma and an area of skin around it; swollen lymph glands, if the cancer has spread to them; or cancer that’s spread to other areas of the body.
“If diagnosed at a later stage, then the melanoma will have spread to other areas of your body,” suggests Daniels.
“Treatment is more complex and may involve immunotherapy or targeted therapy treatment.”