Be Melanoma Aware
Posted May 7, 2012
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Skin
damage from the sun is the biggest cause.
Sun damage to the skin grows over time. For many people, severe
sunburns during youth set the stage for moles, dark blotches and
ugly keratoses (rough pre-cancerous black spots often seen on mature
adults). These spots can mutate into cancers later in life.
Melanoma is a very aggressive form of deadly skin cancer. The
risk of death from melanoma increases with late treatment of the
cancer and also with age. When melanoma is treated in its earliest
stage, the chance of a cure is very good. While melanoma accounts
for fewer than 5 percent of skin cancers, it causes more than 75
percent of skin cancer deaths.
Everyone is at risk for melanoma - even Hispanics and African-
Americans. Heredity (genetics) is a big risk factor. The death rate
from all U.S. cancers has declined in recent years, but the
incidence rate of melanoma has increased.
Risks rise with increased sun exposure, a high number of moles on
the skin, light skin and eyes, and a family history of skin cancer.
Risks also increase for those with weak immune systems. Examples are
patients who have undergone chemotherapy or an organ transplant, or
who have HIV/AIDS or lymphoma.
An unusual mole (dysplastic nevi) can be the first sign of a
problem. Unusual moles often have irregular shapes and colors. Most
melanomas start on the top layer of skin. Surgery at a doctor's
office or outpatient surgery center can often remove a melanoma in
its early stage. The cancer can grow deeply into the skin and spread
if not removed promptly.
Normally, melanoma is found where people have been exposed to the
sun - the scalp, face, ears, legs, arms, upper back and trunk.
African-Americans and Asians might find melanoma on the palm of a
hand, on the sole of a foot, or under a nail. The cancer might be
advanced before diagnosis, which reduces the chances of survival.
Wealthier, educated people are more likely to be diagnosed with
melanoma. Yet they are less likely to die from it than poorer
people, who might be diagnosed later or have fewer treatment
Many experts think hormone changes can make moles more active,
causing them to grow or change color. For instance, moles might be
more likely to change during pregnancy or puberty. Since moles and
dark spots change over time, regular self-exams are recommended.
Periodic full-body scans by a physician are good ideas, especially
for children and adults in melanoma-prone families.
Regular tanning to darken the skin is a dangerous habit.
Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) can mutate skin cells that increase the
risk of cancer.
Tanning beds are especially harmful. They tend to emit far more
UVR than the sun for the same exposure time.
What you should do
Wear protective clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and a UVR-
protective sunscreen to avoid getting too much sun. Teach children
to cover up routinely.
Sit or dine in the shade when you are outdoors. Encourage kids to
play in the shade.
Avoid being in the sun during peak sun hours.
Regularly check for moles and for sores that won't heal. Visit
your care provider or a dermatologist for a full-body scan to
discover unusual moles and dark spots, especially if you have fair
skin or skin cancer runs in your family.
Get prompt professional treatment for any suspected skin cancer.
Ask family members to stop going to tanning salons or using sun
Schools, teachers and caregivers should include the importance of
sun protection in lessons. The EPA's SunWise program, described at
epa.gov/sunwise, includes lesson and activity plans.
Consider artificial tanners (sprays and lotions) if you want a
tanned look. This is a smarter way to look bronzed in a prom dress,
bathing suit, shorts, wedding attire or sundress.
For more information
Visit aad.org/skin-conditions/skin-cancer-detection; cancer.gov/
cancertopics/types/ melanoma; and skincancer.org/ skin-cancer-
Better Health: Take Charge! is provided by the Healthy Memphis
Common Table: healthymemphis.org. This article supports the care and
advice of your doctor.
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