July 23, 2014

Melanoma: Early detection a life saver

It’s almost summer. The sun is higher in the sky. We spend more time outdoors. Thus, we invite skin cancer — the most common form of cancer in America. And dark skin does not mean you are immune.

More skin cancer cases are diagnosed each year than breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers combined.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, with one person dying of melanoma every hour.

While melanoma accounts for fewer than 5 percent of all skin cancer cases, it results in more than 75 percent of all cancer deaths. But if detected and treated early, the survival rate is 99 percent.

So, let’s get serious about preventing melanoma — as well as detecting and treating it before it’s too late — with the following information provided by UnitedHealthcare:

Melanoma is caused primarily by exposure to ultra-violet (UV) rays from the sun.

People with fair skin, especially those with red or blond hair, are more at risk. While white males over age 50 represent the majority of people diagnosed with melanoma, darker-skinned people must also be careful. In fact, their risk is often overlooked, leading to a late-stage diagnosis.

To minimize your risk of developing melanoma:

  • Avoid exposure to the sun and protect your skin during the hours of the day when the sun’s rays are the strongest — between 10:00 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Avoid significant tanning either from the sun or tanning salons.
  • Protect your skin using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 or higher (even in winter); and by wearing appropriate clothing such as wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeve shirts.
  • Use special sunscreens for babies and children with even higher SPFs. Studies show that one or more blistering sunburns during childhood may be a significant risk factor in developing melanoma later in life.

How do you spot potential melanoma?

As early detection and treatment are critical to improving the likelihood of surviving melanoma, everyone should examine their skin carefully every six to eight weeks — being especially observant for lesions, moles and skin markings.

Look for any changes in the number, size, shape or color of lesions, moles and skin markings. For men, they are usually located on the torso, head, and neck area; for women, they will often develop on the lower legs and torso.

The best approach to spotting melanoma is to learn the simple ABCD approach as a useful guide when examining your lesions, moles and skin markings:

A = Asymmetry: Melanoma lesions are generally irregular or lopsided in shape (asymmetrical); noncancerous lesions are usually rounded (symmetrical).

B = Border: Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are ragged or notched; noncancerous lesions will generally have smoother, even borders.

C = Color: Melanoma lesions often consist of many shades of black and brown; noncancerous lesions will usually be a single shade of brown.

D = Diameter: Melanoma lesions are usually more than ¼ inch in diameter, which is about the size of a pencil eraser; noncancerous lesions will typically be less than this size in diameter.

Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any unusual or odd-looking lesions, moles or skin markings. Your doctor will do a thorough examination of all of your lesions, moles and skin markings, and help you to assess your risk based on your medical history.

If your doctor suspects any of them could be cancerous, a biopsy may be performed.

Remember that early detection and treatment are key actions to take to minimize the effects of melanoma.