According to The American Cancer Society, one American dies from melanoma skin cancer every hour. Death is preventable. The five year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98%.
As a way to raise awareness of melanoma and other types of skin cancers, and to encourage early detection through self-exams, the American Academy of Dermatology designates the first Monday in May as Melanoma Monday®.
WHAT IS MELANOMA?
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It begins in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells that make melanin, which gives skin its color. Melanin also protects the deeper layers of the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
When people spend time in the sunlight, the melanocytes make more melanin and cause the skin to tan. If the skin receives too much ultraviolet light, the melanocytes may begin to grow abnormally and become cancerous. This condition is called melanoma.
There are several identifiable risk factors associated with Melanoma
- Ultraviolet [UV] light: Too much exposure to UV radiation is thought to be a major risk factor for most melanomas. The main source of UV rays is the sun. Tanning lamps and tanning beds are also sources of UV rays. People with high levels of exposure to light from these sources are at greater risk for all types of skin cancer.
- Moles: People who have more than 50 common moles have a greater chance than others of developing melanoma. Most common moles do not turn into melanoma. If the color, size, shape, or height of a mole changes consult your doctor immediately. If a mole starts to itch, bleed, or ooze, or if you see a new mole that doesn’t look like their other moles tell your doctor immediately.
- Light colored skin, freckles and light hair: The risk of melanoma is more than 10 times higher for those with low baseline melanin as compared to those with higher baselines. Caucasians with red or blond hair, blue or green eyes, or fair skin that freckles or burns easily are at increased risk.
- Family or Personal history of Melanoma: Around 10% of people with melanoma have a close relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) who has had the disease. This could be due to behavior; the family tends to spend more time in the sun. The heightened risk can be due to genetics; family members have fair skin or share a gene that tends to change (mutate). The heightened risk could be due to all three or any combination of these conditions.
- Immunosuppression: HIV and diseases that weaken the immune system, plus certain medicines used in treating organ transplants and other conditions all have something in common; they can impair the immune system, which can lead to an increased risk of melanoma.
- Age + Gender: In the United States, men by-and-large have a higher rate of melanoma than women. But this varies by age. Before age 40, the risk is higher for women; after age 40 the risk is higher in men.
Previse SkinCare Medical Advisor, Dr Ellen Marmur provides startling facts about Skin Cancer in her book Simple Skin Beauty
Melanoma is the most common cancer in young adults: in people aged 25 – 29 and second to Hodgkins Lymphoma in adolescents and young adults 15 – 29. Studies show that these age groups, even though educated about the dangers of sun expsosure and using better sunscreens, most tween/agers and twenty-somethings are either numb to the message or believe that they won’t be the one in five who gets skin cancer.
Not all skin cancers are sun-related: Skin cancer can show up in surprising hidden places, like on the soles of your feet, on the palms of your hands, under the nails, on the scalp, inside the ears, in the genital area, in the mouth, in the belly button and in the eye. Being vigilantly alert to any changes anywhere on your skin is vital.
Having dark skin does not shield you from skin cancer: Darker skin types are slightly more protected against sun induced skin cancer because of the production of melanin, but they are not immune. Many people with dark skin who get skin cancers are diagnosed at a later stage when the disease is more aggressive + potentially deadly.
There are more than 100 different types of skin cancer: Most skin cancers are linked to sun exposure + immunosuppression. However more rare skin cancers like merkel cell carcinoma, angiosarcoma + dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans can also be diagnosed. Again, being vigilantly alert to any changes anywhere on your skin is vital.
Children can get Melanoma too: While uncommon, is possible. Genetic predisposition can be a strong factor in many recognized cases. Be aware of the risk factors for melanoma and be vigilantly alert to any changes anywhere on your child’s skin.
Please incorporate these sun-safety practices to minimize you and your loved ones risk for Melanoma.
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Do not burn.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 25 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or 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. See our Easy Skin Cancer Screening post for more details.
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