Melanoma: What You Need To Know

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. With over 5 million cases diagnosed in the United States each year, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Here's what you need to know about skin cancer and how you can protect yourself through prevention and self-care. 

What is Melanoma

Melanoma is most dangerous form of skin cancer; it develops when ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds triggers damage to skin cells that causes the cells multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. Melanomas often resemble moles; some develop from moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure (frequently leading to sunburn), especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease. Melanoma kills an estimated 10,130 people in the US annually.[1] 

If melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable, but if it is not, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. While it is not the most common of the skin cancers, it causes the most deaths. In 2016, an estimated 76,380 of these will be invasive melanomas, with about 46,870 in males and 29,510 in women. [2] 

How Can You Prevent It?

Since melanoma is most often caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation via sunshine or tanning beds, prevention includes being smart about sun exposure. Here are the best ways to prevent melanoma:  

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Do not burn
  • Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.

What Should You Look Out For?

As a general rule, to spot either melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers, take note of any new moles or growths, and any existing growths that begin to grow or change significantly in any other way.  Lesions that change, itch, bleed, or don't heal are also alarm signals.

Look for the ABCDE warning signs of melanoma--

Asymmetry - Any mole where two sides don’t match in color, border, shape, etc.

Border - Be aware of lesions with borders that look scalloped, notched, or uneven.

Color - Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, white or blue.

Diameter - Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the eraser on your pencil tip (¼ inch)

Evolving - Be on the alert when a mole starts to evolve or change in any way. When a mole is evolving, see a doctor. Any change — in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to a warning sign. 

What is the best way to do a self exam?

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone practice monthly head to toe exam of  their skin, so that they can find any new or changing lesions that might be cancerous or precancerous. Skin cancers found and removed early are almost always curable.

How do to an exam: 

  • Stand in front of a full-length mirror. Examine your body front and back, then examine your right and left sides with your arms raised.
  • Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, the back of your upper arms, and your palms.
  • Look at your feet, the soles of your feet, and the spaces between your toes.
  • Using a hand mirror, look at:
  • The back of your legs.
  • The back of your neck.
  • Your scalp. Part your hair several times, in different places, to look at your entire scalp.
  • Your back, buttocks, and genital area.

 

[1] https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma

[2] https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma