Hair, Skin, Nails :

Be Melanoma Aware

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Skin damage from the sun is the biggest cause.

Sun damage to the skin grows over time. For many people, severe sunburns during youth set the stage for moles, dark blotches and ugly keratoses (rough pre-cancerous black spots often seen on mature adults). These spots can mutate into cancers later in life.

Melanoma is a very aggressive form of deadly skin cancer. The risk of death from melanoma increases with late treatment of the cancer and also with age. When melanoma is treated in its earliest stage, the chance of a cure is very good. While melanoma accounts for fewer than 5 percent of skin cancers, it causes more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths.

Everyone is at risk for melanoma - even Hispanics and African- Americans. Heredity (genetics) is a big risk factor. The death rate from all U.S. cancers has declined in recent years, but the incidence rate of melanoma has increased.

Risks rise with increased sun exposure, a high number of moles on the skin, light skin and eyes, and a family history of skin cancer. Risks also increase for those with weak immune systems. Examples are patients who have undergone chemotherapy or an organ transplant, or who have HIV/AIDS or lymphoma.

An unusual mole (dysplastic nevi) can be the first sign of a problem. Unusual moles often have irregular shapes and colors. Most melanomas start on the top layer of skin. Surgery at a doctor's office or outpatient surgery center can often remove a melanoma in its early stage. The cancer can grow deeply into the skin and spread if not removed promptly.

Normally, melanoma is found where people have been exposed to the sun - the scalp, face, ears, legs, arms, upper back and trunk.

African-Americans and Asians might find melanoma on the palm of a hand, on the sole of a foot, or under a nail. The cancer might be advanced before diagnosis, which reduces the chances of survival.

Wealthier, educated people are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma. Yet they are less likely to die from it than poorer people, who might be diagnosed later or have fewer treatment options.

Many experts think hormone changes can make moles more active, causing them to grow or change color. For instance, moles might be more likely to change during pregnancy or puberty. Since moles and dark spots change over time, regular self-exams are recommended. Periodic full-body scans by a physician are good ideas, especially for children and adults in melanoma-prone families.

Regular tanning to darken the skin is a dangerous habit. Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) can mutate skin cells that increase the risk of cancer.

Tanning beds are especially harmful. They tend to emit far more UVR than the sun for the same exposure time.

What you should do

Wear protective clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and a UVR- protective sunscreen to avoid getting too much sun. Teach children to cover up routinely.

Sit or dine in the shade when you are outdoors. Encourage kids to play in the shade.

Avoid being in the sun during peak sun hours.

Regularly check for moles and for sores that won't heal. Visit your care provider or a dermatologist for a full-body scan to discover unusual moles and dark spots, especially if you have fair skin or skin cancer runs in your family.

Get prompt professional treatment for any suspected skin cancer.

Ask family members to stop going to tanning salons or using sun lamps.

Schools, teachers and caregivers should include the importance of sun protection in lessons. The EPA's SunWise program, described at, includes lesson and activity plans.

Consider artificial tanners (sprays and lotions) if you want a tanned look. This is a smarter way to look bronzed in a prom dress, bathing suit, shorts, wedding attire or sundress.

For more information

Visit; cancertopics/types/ melanoma; and skin-cancer- information.

Better Health: Take Charge! is provided by the Healthy Memphis Common Table: This article supports the care and advice of your doctor.

© 2012 The Commercial Appeal (2007-Current). via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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