Melanoma is a form of cancer. One that we associate with skin. What is unknown by most is that it’s an affliction that can invade other parts of the body.
A healthy 45 year old Chinese man became worried when he noticed discoloration of his gums. We’re not talking about them being a deep red, or pale, or swollen. They had turned black. He knew he had to seek professional help.
Besides the black color, he’d felt no pain. The area of gums that had blackened measured around half an inch by an inch and a half. Doctors informed him that he was suffering from an extremely rare form of melanoma.
A Rare Cancer
The ailment: mucosal melanoma. It’s an extremely a rare form of melanoma. Only 5% of cases belong to this strain of the disease. Unlike the common misconception that melanoma affects only the outer skin, it can infect all melanocytes.
These cells produce the pigment melanin. Beyond the epidermis, they cover mucosal surfaces all over the body:
- Nasal passages
- Oral cavity
- Middle layer of the eyes
- Inner ear
- even the heart
Over half of mucosal melanomas start in the head and neck region. From here they spread. All melanocytes are susceptible to becoming cancerous. The usual carcinogenic agent of this cancer is UV radiation. Not with mucosal melanoma.
The Nature of the Beast
There are no obvious risk factors. Perfectly healthy family history doesn’t mean you’re exempt. Not to get too technical, but this type of cancer is caused by a mutation in the KIT gene. This then encodes for a protein—CD117. If overexpressed, it can lead to cancer.
What’s troubling—beyond the fact that it’s cancer—is that diagnosis often comes late. Survival rates tend to be low. In fact, the five year survival rates for mucosal melanoma sufferers are around 40%. This is in contrast to cutaneous melanoma rates of over 90%.
The number reported cases is low. According to Cancer Research UK only 120-130 cases are diagnosed each year in Great Britain. That’s out of a population 63 million.
But there is good news. In this case, the patient was quite lucky. As soon as doctors discovered the man’s black gums were a result of cancer, they removed the afflicted parts of the gum. In follow ups, it was revealed the cancer hadn’t spread nor reappeared.
Dr. Potts is a gentle, caring dentist who uses the most advanced materials and procedures available. He practices comfortable, health-centered dentistry, with a strong emphasis on getting to know each patient. In addition to his technical proficiency, Dr. Potts is a careful listener. He makes sure to understand what you want and will explain beforehand what treatment is best for your individual needs, along with all options available to you. Check out our Twitter, Facebook page, and website.