Although Melanoma is less common than other types of skin cancer, it is considered the most dangerous because it is more likely to grow and spread. Melanomas may develop anywhere, but they are more likely to start on the trunk in men and on the legs in women. The neck and face are also common sites. Knowing your risk factors and steps for prevention can greatly reduce your chance of developing melanoma and help you discover it early before it has spread and become more serious
Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure whether by sunlight or indoor tanning, is a main risk factor in the development of melanoma. There is a link between the development of melanoma and frequent sunburns as a child. The risk of melanoma is much greater for those with fair skin.
Elderly people are more likely to develop melanoma, but it is also one of the most common cancers in people under 30, especially younger women.
Your risk of melanoma is also greater if you have an immediate family member who has been diagnosed with melanoma. If there is a family history, the risk of developing melanoma at a younger age is greater.
Some individuals may also be at risk due to a weakened immune system. A healthy immune system helps fight cancers, but those that have a weakened immune system due to fighting other diseases or medical treatments that weaken the immune system are more likely to develop any type of cancer, including melanoma.
The best way to prevent melanoma is to examine your skin once a month and to make regular appointments for evaluation with your dermatologist. You should note the color, size, and shape of any skin markings including blemishes, freckles, and moles. Taking photos of any of these spots can also be helpful for a month-to-month comparison.
Conduct self-exams in a room that is well-lit and in front of a full-length mirror. It is also important to have a hand mirror available to help view any areas that are difficult to see. Examine everywhere, including areas you may be less suspicious of such as your soles, palms, and nails. It is also helpful to have a friend or family member help examine the difficult to see areas.
The most important warning sign is a new spot on the skin, a spot that has changed shape, color or size, or one that looks different than the others. An easy rule to follow is the ABCDE rule. Always beware of the following characteristics:
- Asymmetry: Half of the spot does not match the other.
- Border: Edges of the spot are irregular in shape or blurry.
- Color: The color of the spot varies and may include different shades of brown or black, and sometimes patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
- Diameter: Spots that are larger than 6 millimeters across (about the size of a pencil eraser) are of a concern.
- Evolving: The spot has changed in color, shape or size.
Melanomas do not always fit these guidelines. It is important to make your dermatologist aware of new growths or changes. Some other warning signs include:
- sores that don’t heal or spread from the border of a spot into surrounding skin
- redness and/or swelling
- sensation changes such as itching, tenderness, or pain
- surface changes such as scaling, oozing, bleeding, or raising
As with all cancers, no one can prevent them from happening 100% of the time, but knowing these risk factors, practicing proper skin care to avoid unnecessary UV light exposure, and regular skin checks for warning signs can help individuals catch melanoma before it becomes a much more serious concern. Be sure to schedule an appointment if you have any new spots, changes in spots, or other warning signs.