As winter slowly comes to an end, and summer swiftly approaches; it is important to think about sunscreen and skin cancer. It may not be a popular subject, but it is a subject that needs to be broached. I will be featuring a guest blogger, who is a skin cancer survivor – many times over. And, she is only in her twenties. I hope you will follow this blog, and read her story.
So, today I want to focus on skin cancer. It is important to note there are numerous types of skin cancer. Ones that are very slow growing, and the ONE that you must take serious. Skin cancer can kill you. The most dangerous type of skin cancer is fast growing and can easily metastasize (move into other organs of the body). This type of skin cancer is called melanoma.
For today I will focus on the most deadly skin cancer: melanoma.
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It begins in skin cells called melanocytes. Though melanoma is predominantly found on the skin, it can even occur in the eye (uveal melanoma).
Melanocytes are the cells that make melanin, which gives skin its color. Melanin also protects the deeper layers of the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
When people spend time in the sunlight, the melanocytes make more melanin and cause the skin to tan. This also happens when skin is exposed to other forms of ultraviolet light (such as in a tanning booth). If the skin receives too much ultraviolet light, the melanocytes may begin to grow abnormally and become cancerous. This condition is called melanoma.
Where is Melanoma Found?
The first sign of melanoma is often a change in the size, shape, or color of a mole. But melanoma can also appear on the body as a new mole.
- In men, melanoma most often shows up:
- on the upper body, between the shoulders and hips
- on the head and neck
In women, melanoma often develops on the lower legs.
- In dark-skinned people, melanoma often appears:
- under the fingernails or toenails
- on the palms of the hands
- on the soles of the feet
Although these are the most common places on the body for melanomas to appear, they can appear anywhere on the skin. That’s why it is important to always examine your skin to check for new moles or changes in moles.
What Does Melanoma Look Like?
First, for a successful self-exam, you obviously need to know what you’re looking for. As a general rule, to spot either melanomas or non-melanoma skin cancers (such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma), take note of any new moles or growths, and any existing growths that begin to grow or change significantly in any other way. Lesions that change, itch, bleed, or don’t heal are also alarm signals.
Now, you must learn your ABCDEs of moles – These are the warning signs of skin lesions:
A – Asymmetry – If you draw a line through this mole, the two halves will not match.
B – Borders – The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.
C – Color – Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, blue or some other color.
D – Diameter – Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the size of the eraser on your pencil (1/4 inch or 6 mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.
E – Evolving – Any change — in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.
Who Is At Risk?
- Fair skin, light eyes – Melanoma occurs more often in people with fair skin that sunburns or freckles easily. Usually, these people also have red or blond hair and blue eyes. Fair-skinned people have less melanin in their skin, which means they have less protection against the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.
- Many freckles
- Severe, blistering sunburns as a child or adult – People who have had one or more severe, blistering sunburns as a child or teenager also have an increased risk for melanoma. Because of this, doctors advise parents to protect their children’s skin from the sun. Sunburns in adulthood are also a risk factor for melanoma.
- Family history of melanoma – Melanoma sometimes runs in families, so people with two or more close relatives who have had melanoma also have an increased risk.
- Having had melanoma in the past –
- Non-cancerous, unusual looking moles (called dysplastic nevi) – Certain patterns of moles also commonly go along with an increased risk of melanoma, such as having unusual moles called dysplastic nevi. The risk of melanoma is also greater for people with a large number of ordinary moles.
- More than 50 moles on the skin
- A weakened immune system – People with a weakened immune system (such as people with HIV/AIDS or people who are taking medicines that suppress the immune system), also have a greater chance of getting melanoma.
- Exposure to UV radiation from tanning salons and tanning beds
How Is Melanoma Diagnosed?
Are you wondering whether a mole or funny-looking spot of skin is melanoma? Melanomas usually look different from ordinary moles. The best way to find any suspicious moles on your body is to do a skin self-examination. Click here to print out a skin self-examination guide.
If you notice a mole that looks unusual or that has grown or changed color or shape in the last few months, you should tell your health care provider. If they also think the mole looks suspicious, he or she will refer you to a dermatologist (a physician who specializes in diseases of the skin) or they may opt to do a biopsy. The biopsy will remove a small piece of the mole or the entire mole. A pathologist (another special doctor) then looks at the sample under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
- If the mole turns out to be melanoma, your dermatologist will need to find out more about the disease, based on:
- how thick the tumor is
- how far it may have spread
This process is called staging. Staging the melanoma is a very important step because the choice of treatment has a lot to do with the stage of the melanoma.
If you have a mole that is suspicious, see your health care provider immediately. A biopsy is an easy, quick, and relatively painless procedure. Take a moment to inspect your skin today. Don’t wait!
Coming soon… my guest post from a skin cancer survivor!