Getting the facts about melanoma

For decades now, you’ve heard about the importance of protecting your skin from the sun. But have you ever really wondered why that’s so important?

We’d like to point you toward a key reason why — melanoma.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 91,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2018. You may not think of a skin cancer as being deadly, but more than 9,000 Americans will die of melanoma this year.

Let’s take a look at some facts about melanoma and how you can protect yourself.

Melanoma is less common, but more serious

While melanoma occurs less frequently than other types of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, cases of this type of skin cancer are more serious and can be deadly.

That’s because it’s more likely to grow and spread, making it harder to eradicate.

If melanoma is spotted early and treated, it’s nearly always curable. But when it’s not detected early, it can spread to other areas of the body.

Melanoma often hides

Other types of skin cancer are often more obvious, showing up as red, patchy or bumpy sections of skin. But melanoma often lurks in existing moles or new ones that don’t necessarily raise suspicion.

That’s why it’s especially important to keep an eye on your skin and familiarize yourself with all spots and moles. You want to be able to spot quickly if something changes or a new spot appears.

Melanoma has distinct warning signs

When you’re checking your skin, there are certain things you should look for. Follow the ABCDEs of melanoma — an easy guide to knowing the signs of melanoma.

  • Look for a A normal mole should be symmetrical, meaning that if you drew a line down the middle of it, both sides would be the same. The sides of a mole or other spot should match. Melanoma, on the other hand, often appears as an asymmetrical spot.
  • Look at the b A normal, or benign, mole has smooth, even borders. When a melanoma forms, the borders of the spot are typically uneven. Edges may seem scalloped.
  • Look at the c Most normal moles are all one color — brown. But melanomas often have multiple colors, with different shades of brown, tan or black. Even red, white or blue coloring is possible.
  • Look at the d A normal mole is usually smaller than a pencil eraser. If a new spot emerges that’s larger than that, or if a spot grows to be larger, it could be melanoma.
  • Look at whether it’s e A benign mole will look the same over time. If a spot starts to change, or evolve, have it checked out. That includes changes in size, shape and color, as well as symptoms like bleeding or itching.

Melanoma is more common in certain groups

While you likely know that melanoma is common among those who are frequently exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun or a tanning bed, it’s also more common among other groups.

That includes those with fair skin, freckling and light hair; those who have many moles; and those with a family or personal history of melanoma.

The condition can be diagnosed in those of any age, but it is most common among older men. When it’s found in younger people, though, the person is more likely to be a woman.

Melanoma can be prevented

And it’s probably not surprising that prevention is based on skin protection.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends protecting your skin from melanoma and other types of skin cancer by:

  • Avoiding sunburns.
  • Not using tanning beds or lying out to “tan.”
  • Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to all exposed skin at least 30 minutes before going outdoors.
  • Reapplying sunscreen at least every two hours while outdoors or more often if swimming or sweating.
  • Covering up with clothing, a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Seeking shade in the hottest hours of the day, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Beyond taking these steps to protect your skin, it’s also important to regularly examine it for changes and to have a doctor examine your skin on a yearly basis.

Spotted something suspicious on your skin? Book an appointment with Erlanger Dermatology.