Each year in the United States, nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer, cumulating in an estimated annual cost of $8.1 billion. Often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds, skin cancer is serious, expensive, and sometimes even deadly. This year, an estimated 87,110 people will be diagnosed with melanoma—the most dangerous type of skin cancer—and about 13,590 will die of the disease.
Individuals can improve their chances of early detection by increasing the frequency of skin self-examinations. A simple way to remember the signs of melanoma is to re-member the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma—
“A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
“B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
“C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
“D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
“E” is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
Talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin such as new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, a change in old growth, or if you answered ‘yes’ to any of the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma.
Everyone is at risk for melanoma; however an increase in risk depends upon many factors, several predominate factors are as follows:
Sun Exposure: Both UVA and UVB rays are dangerous to the skin, and can induce skin cancer, including melanoma. Blistering sunburns in early childhood especially increase risk, but sunburns later in life and cumulative exposure also may be factors.
Moles: There are two kinds of moles: normal moles — the small brown blemishes that appear in the first few decades of life in almost everyone — and atypical moles. Atypical moles can be precursors to melanoma, and having them puts you at increased risk of melanoma. But regardless of type, the more moles you have, the greater your risk for melanoma.
Skin Type: As with all skin cancers, people with fairer skin (who often have lighter hair and eye color as well) are at increased risk.
Personal Health History: Once you have had melanoma, you run an increased chance of recurrence. People who have or have had basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma are also at increased risk.
Family History: Heredity plays a major role in melanoma. About one in every ten diagnosed with the disease has a family member with a history of melanoma. If your mother, father, siblings or children have had a melanoma, you have a 50 percent greater chance of developing the disease than people who do not have a family history of the disease.
Protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is necessary all year round, not just during the summer or at the beach. UV rays from the sun can reach you on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days. UV rays also reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow.
Center for Disease Control recommends easy options for protection from UV radiation—
- Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours.
- Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears, and neck.
- Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays.
- Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection.
- Avoid indoor tanning.
The best prevention is to be proactive. Take time to plan and protect your and your family's skin from the suns rays before you venture outside.