What You Need to Know About Melanoma
We’re moving into the sunny Summer, so let me share five crucial facts that you need to know about melanoma.
Fact number one: Of the three main types of skin cancer, which are basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer, and melanoma, melanoma is the most dangerous, because it kills one American about every 54 minutes. And we’re facing a national epidemic of skin cancer, with over three million cases being diagnosed in 2019, a number that increases yearly. This year, about 75,000 Americans will be diagnosed with invasive melanoma, meaning that this malignancy is growing down into the skin.The fellow in the photo below has a melanoma on his forehead. See the closeup just below:
Fact number two: The most common cause of skin cancer is exposure to invisible light (or UV light or ultraviolet light) from the sun and from tanning salon bulbs. Since we know that UV light, this type of invisible light, actually triggers skin cancer, we can (hopefully) limit exposure to it, thereby decreasing our risk of skin cancer. So consider wearing protective clothing, try to avoid midday sun exposure, and use a sunscreen with a ‘broad-spectrum” label, with a potency rating (or SPF) or 30 or higher. One appealing sunscreen is Vanicream® Sunscreen Sport SPF 35, being fragrance-free, and water-resistant, making it less likely to run into people’s eyes. I am President of Big River Silk Skincare Inc., an organic skincare products company which distributes this sunscreen: 4 oz: $17.95).
Fact number three: the most high risk people for development of skin cancer are those who freckle or blister in the sun, those with red hair and blue eyes, and those with a history of one or move blistering sunburns when young, or those who like to play in or work in the sun. But everyone is at risk of skin cancer, from the fair-complected to the darker African- and Asian-descended peoples of the world. Remember that the Afro-Caribbean singer Bob Marley died of melanoma on his foot that developed when he was in his early 30’s. Everyone needs to watch out.
Fact number four: It’s normal for most people to develop between five and thirty-five moles, or pigment-producing collections of cells in the skin, between the ages of five and thirty-five. Many moles are normal, and not a danger of future development of skin cancer. But certain moles are high-risk by their very nature.
The photo below shows a melanoma:
There are A, B, C, D, E warning signs of both melanoma and skin cancer in general, first identified by Dr. Al Kopf and Dr. Darrel Rigel of New York University:
A stands for asymmetry: one half doesn’t match the other half.
B stands for an irregular border, perhaps jagged like the coast of Maine, rather than smooth, like the coast of Florida.
C stands for a color that’s dark, or changing, or our of step with the person’s other moles. Or different shades of brown, black, or gray within the lesion.
D stands for a diameter or distance across the moles that’s enlarging, particularly if it gets larger than the head of a number 2 eraser.
E stands for an evolving or changing lesion.
But don’t wait until a skin growth shows all five of these signs. Skin cancer starts out small, and less obvious, and this is the stage when it can be most easily treated.
Fact number five:
Remember also that skin cancer can develop on any part of the body, even in the groin, and in the scalp. The most common location or melanoma in men is the back, and in women it’s the upper legs. And many people don’t often closely inspect their own groin or scalp.
Fact number six: Summer is a great time to look at your family members’ moles and growths, because they’re more likely to be undressed. In fact, many cases of skin cancer are first detected by a person’s significant other, rather than by a medical professional. And if you only inspect the sun-exposed areas of their bodies, you’re at risk of missing skin cancer. So talk with your significant others about inspecting their whole bodies. Get them naked!
And if you spot a growth or mole that has some of these A, B, C, D, E warning signs, consider bringing that family member to the attention of a Board-certified Dermatologist. Don’t wait until the lesion starts bleeding or scabbing, because skin cancer is much more easily treated and cured if it’s caught early.
My own Dermatology practice since 1993 is with Rheumatology and Dermatology Associates, in Cordova TN, but there are over 12,700 Dermatologists in the United States. You can find one of us close to you by going to the American Academy of Dermatology’s ‘Find a Dermatologist’ tab, at AAD.org. Just plug in your zip code, and voila, you’ll have a list near you. So go on a “mole patrol” of your family, at least once a month. It might just save a life!
For more on this topic of skin cancer, check out a movie that my practice sponsored for Youtube: ‘Understanding the Melanoma Crisis: Scarlet’s Story.” It tells the story of Scarlet, a 26-year-old who was diagnosed with melanoma while pregnant. Check it out. Other helpful resources are on the American Academy of Dermatology web site (AAD.org), and the Skin Cancer Foundation website (SCF.org). Don’t delay. Get checked today!
George Woodbury Jr. M.D.
Rheumatology and Dermatology Associates
8143 Walnut Grove Road
Cordova, TN 38018