With the bright summer sun soon upon us, the first Monday in May is designated with a menacing name: “Melanoma Monday.” On this day and throughout May, the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Cancer Society (ACS) promote the prevention and early detection of melanoma.
As the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells. Melanomas can appear on the skin suddenly and without warning. Unlike many cancers, melanoma can be cured if detected early.
Knowing your risk factors and communicating them to your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and healthcare choices. Risk factors for melanoma skin cancer include: high levels of exposure to UV light (i.e., sunlight), having many moles, fair skin, and a family history of melanoma.
If you have multiple moles or other risk factors, it is important that you perform regular self examinations of your skin, see a dermatologist for regular examinations, and protect yourself from the sun. The ACS recommends a skin cancer-related checkup and counseling about sun exposure as part of any periodic health examination for men and women beginning at age 20.
The recommended self-examination involves a regular inspection of your skin to detect changes in its appearance. This means looking over your entire body, including your back, your scalp, the soles of your feet, between your toes, and on the palms of your hands.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, self-examinations should look for the following:
Asymmetry – one half is different than the other half Border Irregularity – the border is scalloped, uneven, or blurred Color variation – color varies from one area to another; shades of tan and brown; black; sometimes white, red, or blue. Diameter – the diameter is larger than the diameter of a pencil. Evolving or changing – a mole is different than it was last month. If you notice one of these characteristics or a mole itches or bleeds, you should see a dermatologist as soon as possible. According to the ACS, the five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 99 percent.
Beyond early detection, the best way to lower your risk of melanoma is to limit exposure to strong sunlight and other sources of UV light. Avoid being outdoors in sunlight too long. And, be “sun safe” in those times when you are outdoors.
Ready or not, here comes the sun. With a little prevention, it will be alright.
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