Skin Cancer Month: What to Know About Melanoma

Some people may be surprised to learn that the most common type of cancer in the U.S. is skin cancer. Approximately 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each day and an estimated one in five Americans will acquire skin cancer during their life.

Fortunately, skin cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer. With increased awareness and education, these numbers can drop dramatically—hence the designation of May as Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month.

Sure, most of us have heard of skin cancer and melanoma. But, what exactly are they?

  • Skin cancer is the uncontained growth of abnormal skin cells into malignant tumors as a result of DNA damage, often due to overexposure to sunlight or tanning beds.
  • Melanoma is a particular type of skin cancer that begins in a melanocytes cell; these cells create darker pigment called melanin. These tumors often appear brown, blue or black, but can be white, pink or any shade of tan. Out of all types of skin cancers, melanoma causes the most deaths. Approximately one American dies every hour from melanoma.

The importance of shining a light on these diseases is clear: too many people are diagnosed with skin cancer and too many people’s lives are taken because of it. With melanoma being the most deadly type of skin cancer, there needs to be a focus on it, as well. Increased information about prevention, early detection techniques and life-saving organizations are crucial. This blog post provides that type of information, as well as other resources about melanoma.

Who is most likely to get melanoma?

    • People who have relatives who had melanoma
  • People with fair skin that burns and freckles easily
  • People with many moles, irregular moles or large moles
  • However, anyone can get melanoma

What causes melanoma?

  • UVA and UVB ray exposure: A lot of exposure to the sun, sun lamps or tanning beds increases one’s chances of developing melanoma or other types of skin cancer. Research reveals that nearly 90 percent of melanoma cases are associated with exposure to UV rays.
  • Moles: Melanoma may start very suddenly, so it’s essential to know the normal color and sizes of the moles on your body.
  • Genetics: A mutated gene that can trigger melanoma can be passed on through the generations, so know your family history in regards to skin cancer (as well as all cancers, chronic illnesses and diseases).

What are the warning signs of melanoma?

  • Atypical moles (moles that look different from other moles)
  • Asymmetrical moles (healthy moles should be symmetrical)
  • Mole(s) that change in any way
  • Uneven or scalloped borders around the mole
  • Multicolored moles
  • Moles that are larger in diameter than an eraser on a pencil

How can you prevent melanoma?

  • Wear sunscreen every day
  • Don’t get sunburned
  • While being active outside, wear SPF 30 or higher sunscreen
  • When outside, stay in the shade as much as possible
  • Don’t use UV tanning beds or sun lamps
  • Examine your skin monthly
  • Visit your doctor annually for a skin exam

How do you check yourself or a loved one for melanoma?

Melanoma can spread throughout the body if it isn’t discovered and treated early. The prognosis is greatly reduced once melanoma cells reach vital organs. So, make sure you examine your body regularly for atypical moles. Here are step-by-step instructions about how to conduct a head-to-toe examination, provided by the Skin Cancer Foundation.

If you’re interested in donating to nonprofit organizations that provide screening, research, education, advocacy or assistance for people suffering from melanoma, here is a list:

Prevent skin cancer by using sunscreen and limiting your time in the sun. If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with melanoma, here are some important questions to ask your doctor. Do you have questions about other chronic diseases? Find an abundance of helpful information in our library of Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups’ articles.

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