May: Melanoma/Skin Cancer

What is a Melanoma?

A Melanoma or malignant melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer with the highest mortality (risk of death) rate. This cancer develops in the cells responsible for producing melanin. These cells are called melanocytes and product the color of your skin.

What are the causes?

Despite the underlying cause of melanoma not being completely understood, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can significantly increase one’s susceptibility to it. UV light is a form of radiation invisible to the naked eye. Different forms of it are produced by the sun and can significantly damage unprotected skin. UV rays are also found in tanning beds, booths and sun-laps.

What are the potential signs and symptoms?

Melanomas are more commonly present in areas exposed to the sun. They can also occur in areas that don’t receive sun exposure. Common areas include the soles of your feet, fingernail beds and the palm of your hands. The first sign of a melanoma involves the development of a new unusual pigmented growth on the skin (Image 1). It can also include unusual changes in existing moles.

Image 1 – A Melanoma

What constitutes an unusual growth or mole?

An unusual growth or mole can be identified using the following Acronym:

A – Asymmetry. Denoted by an irregular shape.

B – Border. Look for scalloped, notched or irregular borders.

C – changes in color. Many colors or an uneven distribution of colors may indicate a melanoma.

D – diameter. Larger than ¼ of an inch.

E – Evolving. Look for a change in the area over a while. Changes, other than the noted above can include bleeding or significant itchiness of the mole.

What are the risk factors?

Although anyone can be susceptible to skin cancer through exposure to UV light, certain individual characteristics may increase one’s risk. Notable risk factors include:

  • Skins that freckles, burns or reddens easily.
  • Red or blond hair, and green or blue eyes.
  • Certain types or an abundance of moles.
  • Personal/family history of skin cancer.
  • Light skin tone.

How can it be prevented?

The CDC provides several recommendations that act to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. The goal of this is to reduce direct sunlight exposure. To reduce your risk of skin cancer, you should:

  • Stay in the shade.
  • Wear a hat to protect your face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses.
  • Avoid tanning booths, beds or sunlamps.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15.

If you notice any changes in your skin or moles, seek your doctor’s advice. Should they have sufficient cause to suspect skin cancer, they can undertake the appropriate testing to confirm a potential diagnosis. Skin cancer is diagnosed through a biopsy. This involves removing a sample of the area for further investigation in a lab.