Melanoma is the leading cause of all skin cancer related deaths. This year alone, about 60,000 people will be diagnosed with invasive melanoma and 10,700 will die from melanoma. This cancer afflicts people of all ages and all races.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the cells that give the skin its color. These cells are called melanocytes. When they become cancer cells they will spread through the blood to the lymph nodes or lungs.
Diagnosis of melanoma is often made during a routine medical checkup or a mole exam provided by your Dermatologist or their physician assistants or nurse practitioners. The first sign of melanoma is usually a change in the size, shape, or color of a mole, or development of itching, pain or tenderness of a mole or surrounding area. A skin biopsy is the most common way to determine if a suspicious mole is melanoma or a precancerous dysplastic nevus. Another device that is available is a handheld polarizing microscope called a Dermascope. It is a non- invasive and painless device that allows your skincare provider to look deeper into your skin layers where the melanocytes reside.
The activating factor for melanoma is ultraviolet radiation, which can come from natural sunlight or a tanning booth. The artificial tanning rays increase the risk over 5 fold. You may be at high risk for melanoma if you are exposed to intense sun over short periods of time (also called "weekend tanners"), are fair-skinned, suffered from more than 2 blistering sunburns by age 18 or freckle easily, especially in childhood or adolescence. Another leading indicator is the presence of a painful, bleeding and or blistered growth.
Prevention of melanoma includes the everyday use of a broad spectrum sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. This is essential to block the burning UVB rays and to protect against UVA, the skin aging and tanning rays. It is beneficial to stay out of the sun between 10am-4pm. If you are unable to avoid mid day exposure, I recommend that you wear a fabric hat with a 4 inch brim. You should also perform routine self examinations every 1-2 months. Observe any new or changing growths as 10% of melanomas
do not originate from a mole. For information about performing self examinations visit the website www.melanoma.com.
If you have a mole that concerns you, do not ignore it. Make sure that you show it to your skin care provider. Early diagnosis and treatment of melanoma may prove to be life saving.