The American Academy of Dermatology designates the first Monday in May as "Melanoma Monday" to raise awareness of melanoma - a potentially fatal skin cancer - and to encourage early detection. With early detection, melanoma has a high cure rate; however, if not found early, melanoma can spread to lymph nodes and internal organs, and may result in death. The incidence of melanoma has continued to increase during the last four decades. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 76,250 new cases of melanoma in 2012 and 9,180 deaths.
Melanoma rates are thought to be increasing because many people are not protecting themselves from sun exposure, while others are subjecting themselves to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from indoor tanning beds and lamps. (Research shows that indoor tanning increases a person's melanoma risk by 75 percent.) Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma.
The first line of defense against skin cancer starts with you! There is no such thing as a healthy tan. Protect yourself outdoors with these tips developed by the American Cancer Society (they're easy to follow if you remember the slogan "Slip, Slop, Slap"):
Slip! on a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and sunglasses, whenever possible.
Slop! a generous amount of broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 onto all exposed skin. Reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
Slap! on a hat with a wide brim. Seek shade when appropriate, and plan your activities around the fact that the sun's rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
So how can you tell if you show any signs of melanoma? It usually begins as a mole on the skin, but can also begin in other pigmented tissues such as the mouth or eye. The American Academy of Dermatology urges everyone to examine their skin regularly by looking for the "ABCDEs":
A- Asymmetry: One half does not match the other half.
B- Border irregularity: The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.
C- Color: The pigmentation is not uniform; different shades of tan, brown, or black are often present. Dashes of red, white and blue can add to the mottled appearance.
D- Diameter: Melanoma moles are usually greater than 6mm in diameter when diagnosed, but can be smaller.
E- Evolving: A mole or skin lesion looks different from others on surrounding skin or is changing in size, shape or color.
The Body Mole Map from the American Academy of Dermatology (www.aad.org) shows you how to examine your skin and record your spots to use as a reference during your next exam.
In addition, take advantage of the free skin cancer screening - a research project with the American Academy of Dermatology - that Mount Nittany Medical Center is offering on Saturday, May 12, 2012. Call 814.234.6106 for an appointment. This screening is especially important for those without health insurance or a dermatologist.