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What Is Melanoma? Ninja's Cancer Diagnosis Explained

All across the internet, streamers have been reacting to Ninja's cancer diagnosis. The story has been getting so much attention partly because he has a huge platform, but also because he's so young. The Twitch superstar is only 32 years old, and most people imagine typical cancer patients as being much older. However, melanoma — the cancer that Ninja's been diagnosed with – happens to be one of the most common cancers that younger people get.

Ninja revealed his tragic news on social media, explaining that he'd gone to a dermatologist for an routine checkup that his wife had scheduled. The dermatologist determined that the concerning mole on Ninja's foot was melanoma, and doctors later biopsied the area around the spot to try and ensure they'd removed all the cancer.

Luckily, Ninja's doctors told him that they're pretty sure the cancer was caught in its early stages. That's especially good because melanoma has a tendency to spread more quickly than other skin cancers, making it significantly more dangerous. In his post, Ninja asked his fans to "please take this as a PSA to get skin checkups." With that in mind, this is probably a good time to get into questions that fans may have about melanoma.

Melanoma develops like other skin cancers

Skin cancers are among the most common in the world. In the United States alone, about one in five people will develop skin cancer at some point in their life. Melanoma is a subtype of skin cancer, and like other cancers, it develops when cells mutate. Specifically, when the DNA of the melanocyte cells in your skin starts causing those cells to grow and spread rapidly, they become melanoma.

According to research from the Mayo Clinic, Scientists aren't exactly sure what causes DNA to mutate in a way that creates melanoma. Experts agree, however, that UV rays from the sun can be damaging to your skin, so it's recommended that you wear sunscreen outside and avoid tanning beds. Still, UV rays clearly aren't the only cause, because melanoma can develop even in places that don't get a lot of sunlight – like on the bottom of Ninja's foot. 

Regardless of how it begins, melanoma develops through five stages. At stage zero, the cells have just begun to mutate and spread. At stage one, melanoma is less than two millimeters thick and hasn't spread beyond the skin. At stage two, the cancer is larger and more dug into the skin, but it still hasn't spread. At stage three, the melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and by stage four, it has spread throughout the body.

Self-exams are extremely important

It's vital to catch melanoma in its earliest stages. Doctors are likely to have the most success treating a localized melanoma before it spreads to anywhere else in the body. That means, just like Ninja said in his original post, people should absolutely get regular checkups with a dermatologist if they're able. Like Ninja's case, the sooner you look into any issues you find, the more likely you'll be able to make a smooth recovery.

In between visits to the doctor, there are other signs that you can keep an eye out for. A self-examination involves looking over your body in a mirror and checking out any marks, moles, or discolored spots that you find. You don't have to panic the moment that you find something, though; plenty of marks and moles are perfectly normal. Instead, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends using the acronym "ABCDE" whenever you're doing a self-examination at home. Asymmetry, a Border that's irregular, Color that varies, a large Diameter, and Evolving (or changing) spots are all warning signs. If you've got a mark on your skin that has some of those traits, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

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