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Bask in the Springtime Shade

  • 2nd May 2011 |
  • Author: Iris

Healthy Monday Tip — May 2, 2011

Today is Melanoma Monday- prevent skin cancer by avoiding tanning beds, wearing protective clothing in the sun and seeking shade.    Remember to be especially careful at the beach: water and sand reflect the sun’s rays, increasing your chances of sunburn.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a very dangerous type of skin cancer.  Melanoma develops in the cells that produce melanin which is the pigment that gives your skin color.  Melanomas usually grow in unmarked skin but they may grow in a mole or birthmark you already have.  Usually melanoma is found on the upper back, face, scalp and hands in men and women, and on the legs of women.  Melanomas can also appear in the mouth, eye, esophagus, rectum, vagina, urinary tract and small intestines.

The risk of developing melanoma increases with age. However, the disease also frequently affects young, otherwise healthy people.  Melanoma can spread very rapidly. Although it is less common than other types of skin cancer, the rate of melanoma is steadily increasing. It is the leading cause of death from skin disease.

What causes melanoma?

The development of melanoma is related to sun exposure or ultraviolet radiation, particularly among people with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blond hair.

Risks for melanoma include the following:

  • Living in sunny climates or at high altitudes
  • Long-term exposure to high levels of strong sunlight, because of a job or other activities
  • One or more blistering sunburns during childhood
  • Use of tanning devices

Other risk factors include:

  • Close relatives with a history of melanoma
  • Exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer, such as arsenic, coal tar, and creosote
  • Presence of certain types of moles (atypical dysplastic) or multiple birthmarks
  • Weakened immune system due to AIDS, some leukemias, organ transplant, medications used to treat illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Symptoms

The primary symptom of any skin cancer is usually a mole, sore, lump, or growth on the skin. Any change in appearance of a pigmented skin sore over time is a warning sign. Also, watch for any bleeding from a skin growth.

The ABCDE system may help you remember features that might be symptoms of melanoma:

Healthy Monday Tip

  • Asymmetry: One half of the abnormal area is different from the other half.
  • Border irregularity: The lesion or growth has irregular edges that are notched, ragged or blurred.
  • Color: Color changes from one area to another and is not uniform, with shades of tan, brown, or black (sometimes white, red, or blue add to the mottled appearance). A mixture of colors may appear within one sore.
  • Diameter: The mole or trouble spot is usually (but not always) larger than 6 mm in diameter — about the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolution:  There is a noticeable change in the size, shape, surface (such as itching, tenderness, oozing, or bleeding), or color of the mole or trouble spot.

The key to treating melanoma is recognizing symptoms early. You might not notice a small spot of concern if you don’t look carefully, so perform thorough self-examinations monthly, and schedule a formal skin exam with a dermatologist yearly.

Treatment

The most common treatment is surgery to remove the cancerous skin cells and surgically remove some normal tissue that surrounds the area. That is all the treatment that you may need for early-stage melanomas that have not spread to other parts of your body.

If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, these lymph nodes may also need to be removed. Treatment with interferon after surgery may be useful for these patients.    For patients with melanoma that has spread beyond the skin and nearby lymph nodes to other organs, treatment is more difficult. At this point, melanoma is usually not curable. Treatment is usually directed at shrinking the tumor and improving symptoms.

Prevention

The American Cancer Society recommends professional skin examinations every year for people older than 40, and every 3 years for people ages 20 – 40.    Self examination is also highly recommended.  You should examine your skin once a month, looking for any suspicious skin changes.  Use a mirror to examine your entire body and check hard-to-see places.    Call your health care provider if you notice any symptoms of melanoma,
Protect yourself from the sunlight’s damaging ultraviolet rays by doing the following:

Protect yourself from the sunlight’s damaging ultraviolet rays by doing the following:

  • Apply a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day (during winter months as well)
  • Avoid lying in the sun or using tanning devices
  • Minimize sun exposure
    • Especially during the summer
    • Particularly between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing, including a hat and sunglasses

The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and tanning beds increases your risk of developing melanoma. Other factors, such as your genetic makeup, climate, history of blistering sunburns during childhood, and weakened immune system may also play a role.

Limiting your sun exposure and avoiding tanning lamps and beds can help reduce your risk of melanoma. And making sure you know the warning signs of skin cancer can help ensure that cancerous changes are detected and treated before the cancer has a chance to spread. Melanoma can be treated successfully if it is detected early..

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