Melanoma skin cancer is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and can spread to other parts of the body where it becomes hard to treat and can become fatal. While it is not the most common of the skin cancers, it causes the most deaths – melanoma kills an estimated 10,130 people in the U.S. annually. In 2016, an estimated 76,380 of these will be invasive melanomas, with about 46,870 in males and 29,510 in women. If melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable.
These cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations (genetic defects) that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. These tumors originate in the pigment-producing melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis. Melanomas often resemble moles and some melanomas develop from moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white.
Most moles, brown spots, and growths on the skin are harmless – but not always. While there is no substitute for an exam performed by a dermatologist, there are some tools you can use to monitor for lesions that are suspicious for melanoma.
Warning Signs: The ABCDEs of Melanoma
Since 1985, dermatologists have recommended the ABCDE method for evaluating skin lesions for malignant melanoma. This system utilizes a technique that allow medical personnel and patients to monitor skin lesions that may be suspicious for this deadly form of cancer. When performing your monthly self-exams, please remember the ABCDE’s, and contact our office immediately at 804-324-4511 if you find a lesion that meets any of these five criteria.
Warning Signs: The Ugly Duckling Sign
In 1998 a new concept was introduced to help patients identify skin lesions that are suspicious for malignant melanoma. It has been observed that most moles in the same individual tend to be very similar in appearance in terms of their size, shape and color. However, malignant melanomas frequently look different than other moles. So, when you perform a self-exam you should look for the ‘Ugly Duckling’ – the lesion that looks different from the others. For example, the outlier might be a different color than the rest of the moles in a given area. It might be larger than the rest or have a different shape. You should also monitor for lesions that are changing or becoming symptomatic (itching, bleeding, etc.).
If you identify an ‘Ugly Duckling’, or any other skin lesion that concerns you, please call Paladin Dermatology at 804-324-4511 for a prompt appointment.
HOW TO AVOID MALIGNANT MELANOMA
Most skin cancers, including SCC, are curable when detected and treated early. However, it is best to prevent them in the first place and limit risk of developing more cancers in the future. At Paladin Dermatology, we recommend the following sun safety habits:
- Avoid direct sun exposure and seek the shade, especially between 10:00am and 4:00pm.
- Do not allow your skin to get red or burned in the sun.
- Avoid tanning in the sun and never use UV tanning beds.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended exposure, use a water-resistant sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher. Make sure to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, and immediately after swimming or with excessive sweating.
- Apply 1 ounce (two tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreen should be used on babies over the age of 6 months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See us annually for a professional skin exam, and every 6 months if you’ve previously had a skin cancer.