My world changed drastically when my wife was diagnosed with melanoma a couple of years ago. It has been an eye-opening journey that I hope I can prevent others from having to experience. Although there are many reasons for melanoma, many melanomas can be prevented. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.
So what is melanoma? It is important to know that not all skin cancer is melanoma, but melanoma is often considered the most serious form of skin cancer.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops in the melanocyte cells (the pigment that gives your skin color). Since the rate of melanoma has been increasing for the last 30 years, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of melanoma. These signs include a mole with any of these appearances: asymmetrical or lopsidedness, jagged or irregular borders, extra-dark color or more than one color, diameter larger than the size of a pencil eraser (6 mm), evolving or changing, oozing, bleeding or with a hole in the skin that shows the tissue below (ulceration), change in pigmented (colored) skin, or new moles that grow near an existing mole.
Treatment for melanoma depends on the size and stage of the cancer, but the most common types of treatment are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.
There are many things that can increase your risk for melanoma, but one thing that we know is that the risk increases with sun and UV ray exposure. Talking to your primary care provider or dermatologist is important in understanding your melanoma risk. In addition to sun exposure, other factors include a personal/family history of melanoma, fair skin, getting excessive or bad sunburns as child or teenager, having a lot of moles and a weakened immune system.
It is especially important for everyone with risk factors to participate in skin cancer screenings. Screenings look for things that appear to be abnormal or unusual. Early detection and treatment can make a world of difference when it comes to surviving a melanoma diagnosis. During a screening, your healthcare provider will check for any moles or birthmarks that look abnormal in size, shape, color or texture. A biopsy may be needed to determine if the area is cancerous.
You can reduce your risk for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer by avoiding the sun during peak hours, wearing sunscreen year round, wearing protective clothing and avoiding tanning beds.
Remember, most people have moles, so understanding the risk, protecting your skin and educating yourself on the signs and symptoms of melanoma can help keep you safe as you enjoy your spring and summer activities!
Sources: American Cancer Society