Melanoma is the 3rd most common, but most deadly type of skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates in 2017 that over 87,000 new melanomas will be diagnosed in the United States. Fortunately, the risk of melanoma can be reduced with sun protection and when detected early, is highly treatable. May is designated as skincare awareness month and YOU can help spread the news and in turn save lives.
While melanoma can potentially develop in anyone, some people are at higher risk. It is clear that excessive amounts of sun exposure, especially severe burning at a young age can promote its development. Ultraviolet radiation from indoor tanning has also been shown to increase the risk of melanoma. Fair skinned, sun-sensitive people are at the greatest risk, but anyone can get melanoma. Having many moles increases your risk as well. It is also hereditary and if you have had a family member diagnosed with melanoma you are at an increased risk.
Melanoma almost always begins on the surface of the skin which allows the opportunity for it to be detected early and more easily treated. The longer it remains undetected, the more likely it is to grow deeper into the skin. Eventually it may reach the blood and lymphatic vessels and spread throughout the body. Melanoma can occur anywhere, even on covered areas not normally exposed to the sun. It is usually brown or black, sometimes blue or gray, and although rare, can be red, skin colored or even white. In order to help detect melanoma when looking at a spot on the skin apply the ABCDE rules:
A - Asymmetric Melanomas may be asymmetric, meaning one half appears different than the other.
B - Border Irregularity The edge of melanomas may be irregular, ragged or blurred.
C - Color Melanoma may possess a variety of hues and colors within the same lesion.
D - Diameter Because melanomas eventually grow larger, they are often not diagnosed until 6mm (size of a pencil eraser) or larger, though they can be detected when smaller.
E - Evolving If one pays attention to the skin, melanomas can be observed to change in size, shape and/or color. Also, melanoma may look different from other moles and they may cause symptoms (itch, tenderness, scab, or bleed.)
If one of more of the ABCDE rules is present, have a doctor evaluate that spot.
To raise awareness of melanoma and other types of skin cancer and to encourage early detection, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends you perform monthly self-skin exams, receive at least once yearly physician skin exams and practice sun safety. “Be Aware.”
A - Avoid unprotected UV exposure, seek shade.
W - Wear sun protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
A - Apply sunscreen generously and often.
R - Routinely check skin and report changes.
E - Educate yourself and others.
As with other cancer, the best treatment is avoidance and early detection. By performing monthly self-skin exams, keeping watch for unusual appearing, symptomatic, and/or changing lesions, and seeing your physician or dermatologist for skin exams at least once a year, you can be an advocate for healthy skin.
Stevens Community Medical Center is a fully-integrated, health care delivery system that provides a broad array of medical services and specialists, including a board-certified dermatologist. Located in Morris, Minn., Stevens Community Medical Center operates as a nonprofit 501(3)C thriving on patient centered care. Stevens Community Medical Center not only serves the community, but is a part of it. For more information visit www.scmcinc.org.