May is Melanoma Awareness Month. As many of us gear up to spend some time in the sun this summer, it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the causes and prevention of melanoma.
What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma is not the only type of skin cancer, but it is the most dangerous. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma is caused when DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations that cause the cells to multiply quickly, forming malignant tumors. This damage to the skin cells is usually caused my ultraviolet radiation. Melanoma can have the appearance of a mole or may develop from a mole. A melanoma is usually black or brown, but can be a different color as well.
Melanoma is almost always curable if it is caught early; however, if it is allowed to spread to other parts of the body, it becomes much more difficult to treat and is often deadly. Melanoma kills over 10,000 people in the United States each year.
There are many things you can do to limit your exposure to UV radiation and reduce your risk of developing melanoma.
- Wear sunscreen whenever you will be outside, even briefly. It is best to make sunscreen a daily habit for the best protection. Many people use a moisturizer with SPF to easily incorporate sunscreen into their daily routine. Make sure your sunscreen is SPF 30 or above and is labeled for “broad spectrum” protection to keep you safe from both UVA and UVB rays.
- Wear protective clothing such as a hat and loose over shirt to protect your skin when you are outside.
- Do not use tanning beds. Tanning beds are not a safe method of tanning. They emit harmful UV radiation and increase your risk of melanoma by 75%. It is best to avoid purposeful tanning entirely and use an artificial self-tanner instead.
- Avoid the strongest sunlight, which occurs in the middle of the day. Around lunchtime, take a break from sun exposure and find some shade.
- Start early. Just one bad sunburn during childhood can double a person’s risk for developing melanoma later in life. Make sure to use waterproof sunscreen and reapply every two hours to keep your kids safe.
People with fair skin, freckles, blonde or brown hair, light eyes, more than 50 moles, or a family or personal history of skin cancer have an increased risk of developing melanoma. Melanoma prevention is important for everyone, but those individuals at highest risk for melanoma should take extra care.
In addition to taking precautions to prevent melanoma, it is important to be vigilant and examine your skin regularly so you can spot any changes that could signal the development of melanoma as soon as possible. Perform monthly self-checks and make sure to visit your dermatologist annually for an evaluation. The Melanoma Research Alliance advises looking for the ABCDE’s of melanoma to help guide your examinations.
- A – Asymmetrical – Take note of moles or marks that have an irregular shape.
- B – Borders – Uneven borders are another telltale sign of melanoma.
- C – Colors – If a mole or mark is more than one color, this may be a cause for concern.
- D – Diameter – Follow up on any marks or moles that are larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
- E – Evolved – One of the most important signs of possible melanoma is if a mole or mark has grown in size or thickness.
If you note any of the above signs, be sure to visit your dermatologist to have the area of concern checked out. Remember, melanoma is highly treatable, but early detection is vital. Don’t wait or second-guess yourself if you have a concern. Be on the safe side and consult with your doctor.
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