May is Melanoma Awareness Month, Are You at Risk?
“Doctor, I Have a Funny Mole”
Most of us are aware of the dangers of melanoma; melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. However, it is almost always curable if treated early. According to the American Cancer Society the average five-year survival rate for individuals whose melanoma is detected and treated early is 98 percent. If not treated melanoma can advance, becoming harder to treat. It can become fatal.
Melanoma can appear on normal skin, or it may begin as a mole that has changed in appearance. Some moles that are present at birth may also have potential to develop into melanomas.
What to look for:
When looking at your skin to detect skin cancer you will want to keep in mind your ABCDE’s.
Borders: Does the growth have irregular borders?
Color: Does the growth have a varying color to it?
Diameter: Is the diameter of the growth more than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser)?
Evolving: Does part of the growth or lesion look like it is changing in shape, size, or color?
If you answer “yes” to any of these criteria, or if you notice a mole that is different from others, changes, itches, or bleeds you should make an appointment to see a dermatologist.
Who is at risk?
Melanoma can strike anyone. Caucasians are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than other races. Some other risk factors are:
- You have a substantially increased risk of developing melanoma if you have greater than 50 moles, large moles, or atypical (unusual) moles.
- Your risk is increased if a blood relative (e.g., your parents, children, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles) has had melanoma.
- If you are a Caucasian who has fair skin, blonde or red hair and blue or green eyes you are at increased risk.
How can I prevent melanoma?
Excessive exposure to the sun’s UV rays is the most important preventable cause of all skin cancers, including melanoma. Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 to all exposed skin when you are in the sun. You should also:
- Wear protective clothing – such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, where possible.
- Seek shade – remember that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Avoid tanning beds – ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling.
- Regular exams- The American Academy of Dermatology urges you to have an annual skin cancer screening, as well as performing self-exams.