The first Monday in May is designated as Melanoma Monday and the official launch of Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month.
"Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer," explained General Surgeon John Madison, M.D. "It represents more than 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths and is one of the most common cancers in young adults.
"Melanoma begins in skin cells called melanocytes, which make the melanin that gives skin its color. Melanin also protects the deeper layers of the skin from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. The primary cause of melanoma is from too much ultraviolet radiation reaching the skin. UV rays from the sun and other sources such as tanning booths, can damage skin cells, causing cells to grow abnormally."
Skin Cancer Rates Rising
While many people understand that overexposure to the sun or tanning beds is unhealthy, most do not protect their skin from harmful UV rays. As a result, skin cancer is becoming more common in the U.S., and if current trends continue, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime.
Caucasians are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than other races. However, certain individuals are at higher risk than others, such as those who have:
On Melanoma Monday, please consider these facts about indoor tanning:
1. Indoor tanning is considered a carcinogen by The World Health Organization, and the American Medical Association, American Academy of Dermatology, and American Academy of Pediatrics.
2. The risk of melanoma is increased by 75 percent when exposure to tanning beds occurs before the age of 30 (Lancet 2009).
3. Researchers found that those using tanning beds often were 2.5-3 times more likely to develop melanoma than a person who never tanned indoors.
-Many moles, large moles or atypical (unusual) moles.
-A blood relative (e.g., parents, children, siblings, aunt) who had melanoma.
-Fair skin versus olive skin.
-Red or blonde hair.
-Blue or green eyes.
-Had a previous melanoma or other skin cancer like basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.
Where to Look
Most people have between 10 and 40 moles. Normal moles are generally a uniform color, such as tan, brown or black, with a distinct border separating the mole from the surrounding skin. They're oval or round and usually smaller than 1/4 inch (6 millimeters) in diameter - the size of a pencil eraser.
"Atypical or unusual moles are generally larger than normal moles, are variable in color, may have irregular borders or occur in greater number than regular moles," Dr Madison stated. "It is important to recognize that atypical moles are not limited to any specific body area and may occur anywhere. The presence of atypical moles is an important risk factor for melanoma developing in a mole or on otherwise normally appearing skin.
"Melanomas can develop anywhere on the body, but they most often develop in areas that have had exposure to the sun, such as your back, legs, arms and face. "They can also occur in areas that don't receive much sun exposure, such as the soles of your feet, palms of your hands and on fingernail beds. These hidden melanomas are more common in people with darker skin."
In men, melanoma most often shows up:
-on the upper body, between the shoulders and hips
-on the head and neck
In women, melanoma often develops on the torso or lower legs.
Most melanomas appear without any accompanying symptoms. Approximately 70 percent of these cancers arise from normal-appearing skin, while the remaining 30 percent arise from an existing mole. These will manifest as a mole that has undergone sudden changes in shape, color, or diameter, or suspicious changes such as swelling, scaliness, itching, oozing or bleeding. If left untreated, the tumor can spread downward into deeper skin layers, and to lymph nodes and internal organs, which is called metastasis. Once melanoma has spread to other parts of the body beyond the skin, it is difficult to treat.
Tips to Prevent Melanoma
-Generously apply a water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 that provides broad-spectrum protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays to all exposed skin. Re-apply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
-Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, where possible.
-Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
-Protect children from sun exposure by having them play in the shade, use protective clothing and apply sunscreen.
-Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun and increase the chance of sunburn.
-Avoid tanning beds. UV light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling.
-Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, growing or bleeding on your skin, see a physician.
John Madison, M.D., is a board certified general surgeon affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's medical staff. His office is located at 2094 East State Street, Suite D, in Salem, 330- 337-7316.