01 May May Is Melanoma Awareness Month: Get Educated and Get Screened
It’s hard to prevent something—especially cancer—if you don’t know much about it. That’s why the month of May is all about raising awareness for melanoma, a type of skin cancer that is rare, but very serious.
What Is Melanoma and How Is It Treated?
Melanoma is only one type of skin cancer; other major types include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma accounts for only 1% of all skin cancers, but it is the cause of the most skin cancer deaths. It is also the most common cancer for young adults, especially for young women.
One of the major risk factors for melanoma is ultraviolet (UV) light exposure—in other words, spending too much time in the sun or the tanning bed. Moles, fair skin and a predisposition to freckling, family history, age and being male are also risk factors for melanoma. Melanoma is characterized by a mole, lump, blemish or other skin marking that shows signs of growth and change.
When melanoma is discovered, treatment depends on the stage of the cancer. Most early stage melanomas are treated with surgery, excising the melanoma as well as a border of normal skin to ensure all cancerous cells are removed. Medicinal treatments such as those for immunotherapy, targeted therapy and chemotherapy are used if the cancer has spread beyond the skin and to the lymph nodes.
Survival rates for melanoma vary, but those in the early stages have five- and ten-year survival rates of over 80%. Catching melanoma early is key.
Early Detection: Identify Melanoma
As melanoma can be seen early on, it’s important to know what to look for. Some melanomas begin within existing moles, while others suddenly spring up. To determine whether or not a mole could be cancerous, you look to the ABCDE rule: asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolving. Benign (noncancerous) moles are symmetrical, round with smooth borders, an even shade of brown or pink, small (< 6 mm) and stays the same. Melanomas are the opposite, with irregular shapes, borders and colors, as well as a growth in size.
Become familiar with your own moles by doing monthly self skin exams, you will be the first to notice any new or suspicious moles or growths. It is also recommended to have yearly skin cancer screenings with a dermatologist. If you have a history of skin cancer or have an immediate family member who has had melanoma, you may require skin cancer screenings more frequently with your dermatologist.
Melanoma Skin Cancer Prevention
Just like any other cancer, there is no 100% guarantee to preventing melanoma. The best preventative measure, in addition to skin cancer screenings and diligence, is to minimize exposure to the sun. Sit in the shade when possible, and, if skin must be exposed, slather on a broad spectrum sunscreen. Hats, sunglasses and other accessories can also help protect the skin against potential skin cancer-inducing damage.
It may be tough to give up the natural sun-kissed glow, but the dangers of melanoma outweigh the benefits of bronze skin—so ditch the tanning beds and get aware!