Skin Cancer Awareness Month
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in America. Thanks to its ability to spread to other organs if not treated early, one kind of skin cancer is considered the most dangerous: Melanoma.

Melanoma begins in the cells found in the upper layer of the skin, called melanocytes. Normally, exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds triggers melanocytes to produce melanin which works to protect the skin. But in some cases, prolonged UV radiation exposure damages the body’s DNA which then mutates the melanocytes. When that happens, instead of producing melanin, the skin cells engage in uncontrolled cellular growth (a.k.a. cancer).

The good news is that when detected and treated early, melanoma is curable. In fact, the five-year survival rate for patients with melanoma detected early is about 99%. Undetected and left to spread,  melanomas can be very difficult to treat and can be deadly. An estimated 7,900 people Americans will die of melanoma in 2023.

One of the challenges of detecting melanoma is that it is presented in various shapes, sizes, and colors. While most moles and brown spots on the skin are harmless, it’s helpful to keep what’s called the ABCDEs of melanoma in mind when inspecting your own body. Here’s what they stand for:

A for Asymmetry: Most melanomas are asymmetrical, meaning the two sides don’t match. For example, if you drew a line through a mole or spot on your body, the two sides would not mirror each other.

B for Border: The border, or edges, of melanoma tend to not be smooth. Instead, they may appear notched or jagged.

C for Color: Any spot or mole with multiple colors or even different shades of the same color are cause for concern.

D for Diameter and Dark: Keep an eye out for any growth larger then ¼-inch in diameter (roughly the size of a pencil eraser). If you have something that’s not that large but has any of the other ABC or E issues, get it checked sooner than later. This is especially true for any growth on your skin that is darker than others.

E for Evolution: Any changes in size, shape, color or general appearance of a mole or spot, or the development of any new characteristics, such as bleeding, itching or crusting.

Melanoma can strike any one at any age. In addition to early detection, one of your best weapons against it is prevention. 

Here are some simple steps you can take year-round to lower your risk of developing skin cancer:

- Limit your time in the sun. UV rays are the strongest between 10am and 4pm. Take a break from the sun and spend time in the shade.

Apply broad spectrum sunscreen frequently. Use at least SPF 15 or higher even when it’s cloudy and reapply if you are in the sun for an extended period of time.

- Cover your skin. Wear clothing that covers your skin when possible, and wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and neck.

- Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.

 

Lixia Ellis, MD, PhD is a dermatologist at SVMC Dermatology.

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