Each year, more than 2 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer, the most common form of cancer. Of these, more than 70,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. There are 3 main types of skin cancer. Most are either basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas. These seldom become life threatening. Melanoma is a less common but more serious cancer. When diagnosed early, melanoma can be cured. Because of this, it’s important to notice any skin changes and report them to your doctor right away. These next few pages describe risk factors and important tips for finding melanoma early -while it is small and before it has spread.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a cancer that begins in melanocytes. These are the cells that produce skin coloring or protective pigment. Melanin helps protect the deeper layers of the skin from harmful effects of the sun. When exposed to the sun, the melanin increases and your skin darkens.
Basil cell and squamous cell carcinomas of the skin do not commonly spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma can spread if not diagnosed and treated at an early stage. Once they begin to grow, they are harder to treat and less likely to be cured.
Ultraviolet rays from sunlight can damage DNA and sometimes this damage affects certain genes. The damage affects certain genes that control how and when cells grow and divide. If the genes do not work the way they should, the affected cells may form a melanoma.
Most UV radiation comes from sunlight, but it also comes from artificial sources, such as tanning booths. Some of this exposure and cell damage may have happened within a few years of the start of the cancer. But a lot of the damage is caused by exposures that happened many years earlier. Children and young adults often get a lot of intense sun exposure that may not lead to cancer for many years. In some families with inherited melanomas, gene changes that increase the risk of melanoma are passed from one generation to the next. Although most moles never turn into a melanoma, some do. DNA changes can cause the cells of a mole to change into melanoma cells. But it is still not known why some moles become cancer or why having many moles or unusual moles increases a person’s risk of getting melanoma.
What To Do
It’s important to go to a dermatologist to get checked especially if there is a family history.
The most important warning sign of melanoma is a new or changing skin growth. This could be a new growth or a change in the size, shape, or color of a spot on your skin. Most of us have spots on our skin. A non-cancerous growth may sometimes look like a skin cancer. Almost everyone has moles, and most moles are harmless. But a change in the way a mole looks is a sign that you should see your doctor.
Here 1s the simple ABCD rule to help you remember.
- Asymmetry: One half of the spot does not match the other half.
- Border irregularity: Normal moles are round or oval in shape. The borders of a melanoma may be uneven, blurred, or notched.
- Color: Common moles are usually one color throughout. Melanomas may have several colors or an irregular pattern of colors. L 6
- Diameter: Common moles are generally less than 1/4 inch across (the diameter of a pencil eraser). Melanomas may be 1/8 to 1/4 inch across but are often larger.
What Not To Do
You can reduce your risk by staying out of intense sunlight. This is especially true for fair-skinned people, those with a tendency to develop many moles or unusual moles, or those who are at increased risk for any reason. To help stay well, avoid unprotected sun exposure when the sun is high in the sky. Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat. Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Remember, sunscreen doesn’t provide total protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays, but it does help. For the best effect, you will need to put on sunscreen before you go out and again about every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating a lot. Indoor sunlamps and tanning beds increase your risk of skin cancer and should not be used.