Protect Yourself From Melanoma
For many, one of the best parts of summer is spending time in the sun.
But…as enjoyable as time in the sun may be, soaking up those rays without adequate protection can have serious consequences.
One of the most serious of those consequences is melanoma.
What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that forms in your melanin cells (which are the cells that give your skin its color).
While melanoma is less common than other forms of skin cancer, it can be more aggressive and stands a greater chance of spreading to other parts of the body than other skin cancers.
Melanoma is most commonly caused by UV light exposure. This exposure usually comes from sunlight, but it can also come from tanning beds and other artificial UV light sources. Other factors that increase your risk for developing melanoma include:
- A family history of melanoma
- Light skin, hair, and eye color
- A weakened immune system
- Previous cases of non-melanoma skin cancer(s)
- Non-cancerous moles or birthmarks (which can later become cancerous)
Warning Signs of Melanoma
As with cancer in general, early detection is the key to successful treatment. For melanoma, the focus is frequently on moles.
Dermatologists recommend that you examine your skin regularly for any changes or abnormalities. In particular, they suggest using the ABCDE rule for evaluating moles. Look for the following:
- A: asymmetry
- B: border (irregular)
- C: colors (varied)
- D: diameter (larger than a pencil eraser)
- E: evolving (changing in appearance)
If you observe any of the above, see a dermatologist as soon as possible.
It’s also a good idea to have an annual exam with a dermatologist, particularly if you have a lot of moles. Your dermatologist should be able to spot potential problems earlier than you can on your own.
Other things to look for:
- Moles that look unusual
If you have moles, let your dermatologist know if any of them look unusual (per what’s described above).
- Out-of-sight moles
While melanoma may be more common on skin that is regularly exposed to UV light, it can develop anywhere…including on the bottoms of your feet and other places you might not think to look. Other “out of sight” places melanomas can form include in your eyes, under fingernails and toenails, on your back, and on your scalp.
- Unusual colors
Your body will try to fight melanoma just like any other infection. This immune response is what causes melanomas to be unusually and brightly colored. Unfortunately, these bright colors often cause people to confuse melanoma with a rash, a scrape, or a bruise. If what you think is an injury doesn’t respond quickly to first aid, see your dermatologist immediately.
- Areas that itch or bleed
Maybe you think you scraped yourself and you just don’t remember when it happened? Areas on your skin that spontaneously bleed or itch should be checked out by a dermatologist.
Why Is Melanoma So Dangerous?
Melanoma ranks as the most serious type of skin cancer. Unlike its less-aggressive cousin, basal cell sarcoma, melanoma can spread to internal organs via the lymph system.
Every year, more than 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma. Unfortunately, about half will not be diagnosed until the tumor has spread.
What makes melanoma particularly tricky is that it can spread with almost no symptoms until it has become very advanced. This makes early detection that much more important.
How Can Melanoma Be Treated?
Before melanoma spreads, treatment can be as simple as removing the offending mole or lesion. Lymph nodes will usually be removed as well for lab analysis to be sure the melanoma hasn’t spread.
If the melanoma has spread, more aggressive therapies such as immunotherapy, radiation, or chemotherapy may be combined with surgery.
What Can You Do?
When it comes to melanoma, early detection is crucial.
Apart from regular skin exams, you can also do the following:
- Wear sun-protective clothing
- Use sunscreen every day
- Avoid outdoor activities during peak sun hours (from 10am to 3pm)
To learn more about maximizing your health, call us at 800-859-7511 or use our convenient contact form to sign up for your free 30-minute consultation.