Melanoma – The Most Serious Form Of Skin Cancer

More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year.  Of these cases, more than 95,880 are melanoma, a cancer that claims 7,910 lives each year.

The overall incidence of melanoma is rising at an alarming rate.  Advanced melanoma spreads to internal organs and may result in death. Fortunately, most skin cancers, including melanoma, can be cured if detected early.

Melanoma, a very serious skin cancer, is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing tanning cells, melanocytes.  Melanomas may suddenly appear without warning, but can also develop from or near a mole.  They are found most frequently on the upper backs of men and women or on the legs of women, but can occur anywhere on the body.

Melanoma can strike anyone.   However, certain individuals are at higher risk than others.  For example:

  • Your chances increase significantly if you’ve already had one
    melanoma.
  • You have a substantially increased risk of developing melanoma if you
    have many moles, large moles or atypical (unusual) moles.Your risk is increased if your parents, children or siblings have had
    melanoma.
  • If you are a Caucasian with fair skin, your risk is four times as
    great as a Caucasian with olive skin.
  • Redheads and blondes have a twofold to fourfold increased risk of
    developing melanoma.
  • Excessive sun exposure in the first 10 to 25 years of life increases
    your chances of developing melanoma.

Recognition of changes in the skin is the best way to detect early melanoma. If you notice a mole on your skin, you should follow the simple ABCDE rule which outlines the warning signs of melanoma:

Asymmetry – One half does not match the other half.

  • Border irregularity – The edges are ragged, notched or blurred.
  • Color – The pigmentation is not uniform.  Shades of tan, brown or black
    are present. Dashes of red, white, and blue add to the mottled appearance.
  • Diameter – The width is greater than six millimeters (about the size of
    a pencil eraser) ,but they can be smaller.   Any growth of a mole should be
    of concern.
  • Evolving –  A mole or skin lesion looks different from the rest or is
    changing in size, shape, or color.

When detected early, surgical removal of thin melanomas can cure the disease in most cases.  Early detection is
essential; there is a direct correlation between the thickness of the melanoma and survival rate.

Dermatologists recommend a regular self-examination of the skin to detect changes in its appearance.  Additionally, patients with risk factors should have a complete skin examination by a dermatologist every 6 to 12 months.

Since sun exposure is the most preventable risk for melanoma,  follow these sun protection guidelines:

  • Avoid outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Seek shade whenever possible.
  • Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and re-apply every two hours. I wear sunscreen with a 45 to 55 SPF.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing and accessories, such as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. My hat is not pretty, but offers great sun protection.

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