In the U.S., melanoma diagnoses and deaths are on the rise, especially among women under the age of 30. With increased education and treatment, it's possible to reverse this trend. Read on to find out how you can decrease your risk of melanoma and help to educate others in honor of Skin Cancer Detection Month.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and usually originates in the cells that produce the color in your skin, called melanocytes. Although melanoma begins on the skin, if left untreated it can spread to blood vessels and other organs and become life threatening.
What causes melanoma?
Most melanomas are the result of skin cell damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays. Too much exposure to the sun or to artificial UV rays from tanning beds can greatly increase your risk of getting skin cancer.
How to detect melanoma:
A melanoma tumor is usually black or brown; but can also be skin colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. Both men and women should have their skin checked regularly and thoroughly for potential skin cancers.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends looking for the "ABCDEs of Melanoma" when examining the moles on your skin. These include:
- Asymmetry, where one half of the mole is not like the other half
- An irregular or poorly defined border
- Unusual coloring
- Diameter greater than that of a pencil eraser
- A mole that is evolving in size, shape or color
Some people are more at risk of developing skin cancer than others. These include people with fair skin or with a family history of skin cancer. If you have had frequent sunburns or use tanning beds, you are also at an increased risk. Finally, people who have a compromised immune system for any reason have a higher risk of developing skin cancer.
How to protect yourself:
Skin cancer can be prevented by minimizing your exposure to the sun and avoiding tanning beds and sun lamps. When you do go out in the sun, protect yourself by wearing broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, sunglasses, a hat, and loose clothing that covers the skin. Never sunbathe or allow yourself to get sunburned, and try to reduce your sun exposure during the hottest part of the day.
Tanning beds are not harmless:
Because of the prevalence and popularity of tanning beds, skin cancer is on the rise among teenage girls and young women. According to a 2014 study, more people develop skin cancer from tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking. People who have used a tanning bed 10 or more times increase their risk of developing melanoma by 34 percent; those who use a tanning bed before the age of 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of developing melanoma.
Early detection is key:
When melanoma is detected early, it can often be cured through surgical removal of the affected area.
Chemotherapy or radiation may be necessary for melanomas that have spread beyond the skin. Strive for early detection by conducting regular self-examinations and having your skin checked annually by a physician. Skin cancer often develops on the back, particularly in men, so it's important to have the help of others in order to complete a thorough examination.
Go to www.americanskin.org for more information about how to prevent skin cancer.