Melanoma – Protect Yourself from the Most Lethal Form of Skin Cancer

Melanoma – Protect Yourself from the Most Lethal Form of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer, accounting for about half of all cancers in general. Melanoma — a cancer that begins in the melanocytes — accounts for only about 3% of all skin cancer cases, but is the most serious and lethal form of skin cancer. Melanoma is estimated to be the cause of more than 8,000 deaths in 2007.

Melanoma is a malignant tumor that originates in melanocytes — specialized skin cells that make melanin, the protective pigment which makes skin tan or brown. When people spend time in sunlight, the melanocytes make more melanin in response to the ultraviolet rays and cause the skin to tan. This also happens when skin is exposed to other forms of ultraviolet light (such as in a tanning booth). If the skin receives too much ultraviolet light, the melanocytes may begin to grow abnormally and become cancerous.

The majority of melanoma tumors are black or brown. However, melanomas can be skin-colored, pink, or even colorless. They can be found anywhere on the skin, but are most often found on the torso, the legs, the face, and the neck.

How do you know if you are at increased risk for melanoma? Your risk depends on several factors, including family history, number of moles on the skin, and being fair-skinned. Your history of sun exposure is also important — blistering sunburns in childhood increase your risk, but remember that cumulative exposure is also a factor. Having darkly pigmented skin decreases your risk for melanoma, but is not a guarantee that you will not get melanoma.

The first sign of melanoma is often a change in the size, shape, or color of a mole. But melanoma can also appear on the body as a new mole — so any spots on your skin that are new or are changing in size, shape, or color should be evaluated. Be familiar with the pattern of your moles, freckles, and other skin markings so that it’s easy to notice any changes. Then, be sure to perform a self-exam, preferably once a month. The ABCD rule can be helpful:

A for Asymmetry: The shape of the mole is not symmetric.

B for Border: The border of the mole is irregular, blurred, or notched.

C for Color: The color of the mole is not uniform, and has differing shades of brown, tan, black, or other colors.

D for Diameter: The mole is larger than 6mm, or an old mole appears to have grown from its usual size.

However, the ABCD rule doesn’t always apply — so any new growth, change in mole shape, or a sore that does not heal should always be evaluated. Sometimes it’s difficult to know the difference between a melanoma and a regular mole — so if you have any doubts at all, see your doctor. Early detection still remains the best weapon in fighting skin cancer.

Melanoma – Protect Yourself from the Most Lethal Form of Skin Cancer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *