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Melanoma Awareness Month: Identification and Prevention of Melanoma

Summer is almost here, which means tons of fun in the sun, but are you and your family adequately protected against harmful UV rays? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “UV exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.” Unfortunately, through the use of sunless tanning beds and inadequate sun protection on exposed skin, rates of the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, are on the rise, particularly in younger individuals. This May, help promote Melanoma Awareness Month by practicing healthy skin habits and encouraging friends and family to do the same.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a cancer that is specific to the pigment-producing cells within the skin called melanocytes, which is what gives us each our unique skin color. For the most part, melanoma will appear on sun-exposed skin, but can develop elsewhere on the body. This particular skin cancer is able to spread widely to other parts of the body, which is what makes it the deadliest form.

The key to ensuring effective treatment and survival is finding and removing melanoma early. When found in early stages, known as “localized,” melanoma has a 98.5% five-year survival rate; Stage 3, or “regional,” lowers to a 62.9% five-year survival rate; and stage 4 “metastatic” has a 19.9% five-year survival rate.

Identifying Melanoma

To stay on top of skin health, it is vital to note any changes in appearance and bring them to your doctor’s attention right away. Self-exams are important for early detection, and the easiest way to remember what to look for is by following the ABCDE guide.

  • A: Asymmetry. Skin growths that have one portion different than the other could be an indication of melanoma. For example, one side is darker and slightly raised and the other is lighter and flat.
  • B: Border Irregularity. Melanoma may have borders that appear irregular, notched or scalloped. Basically, anything that doesn’t appear to be fairly symmetrical or rounded should be evaluated.
  • C: Color Changes. If a spot on the skin includes multiple colors or the color is unevenly distributed, it could indicate cancer or melanoma.
  • D: Diameter. Sometimes, the size of a growth could indicate cancer. In general, the rule of thumb is anything larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser should be checked.
  • E: Evolving. This one requires some attention to growths or spots that may have been previously present. Changes over time such as growth in size, changes in color or shape, or development of new symptoms like itching or bleeding could be an indication of cancer.

Again, any changes you notice on your skin should be evaluated as soon as possible to rule out the possibility of it being any form of cancer and have it removed immediately and treated.

Preventing Melanoma

While it may not be possible to prevent all forms of melanoma or skin cancer, taking all precautions will help lower your risk significantly. Since UV exposure is the root cause of a majority of melanoma cases, always be sure to use protection against the sun every time you go outside. This can easily be done by staying in the shade, wearing protective clothing, and using broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen of at least SPF 30 or higher. These precautions are for everyone regardless of age, race, or gender. If you notice anything that appears questionable on your skin, don’t wait to bring it up to your doctor right away.

Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that requires quick treatment to avoid it spreading to other parts of your body. If you feel you are due for an exam by a physician, visit us today and make sure to enjoy the summer sun safely.