“Melanoma is on the rise in the United States with approximately one in every 50 Americans expected to develop it,” explained Gregory Daniels, MD, PhD, clinical coordinator of the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center’s Melanoma Program. “If it’s caught in the early stages, when only the skin is affected, melanoma is more curable. Early detection is crucial because these cancers develop quickly.”
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma starts in the pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. These cells become abnormal, grow uncontrollably, and aggressively invade surrounding tissues. Nonmelanoma skin cancers (basal cell or squamous cell) can appear similar to melanomas and occur mostly on chronically sun-damaged skin. Unlike melanoma, non-melanoma skin cancers rarely spread to other sites in the body.
Early warning signs and risk factors
- Basal and squamous cell (non-melanoma skin cancers)
- Usually painless
- Frequently characterized by a pale, waxy, pearly nodule which may eventually open and bleed, or by a red scaly, sharply outlined patch, or by a scar-like patch.
- Starts as a very small area and becomes very large.
- Occurs mainly on sun-exposed areas, such as the head, neck, hands and arms, but can appear on any area of the skin.
- While these cancers do not develop into melanoma, they occur more frequently in patients at risk for melanoma.
- Malignant melanoma (Follow the ABCs):
- A for asymmetry – Is the mole no longer symmetrical?
- B for border irregularity – Is the border notched where it used to be regular?
- C for color change – Is it a darker color, different color, or uneven color?
- D for diameter – Has it increased?
- E for elevation – Has it changed?
- F for feeling – Has the mole become itchy, red, swollen, softer or harder, oozes, crusty or bloody?
So you found something. What next?
The “ugly duckling rule” identifies skin lesions that appear different or stand out from the rest of your skin lesions. If you have any of these irregularities, particularly if they are changing or stand out from the normal background or your skin, see a health care provider. If it is in the precancerous stage or during its early growth phase, a melanoma can be easily removed and completely cured.
Tips for Protecting Your Skin:
- Minimize being in the sun (or outside on overcast days) between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. The fairer the individual, the higher the SPF but dark skinned people can also get severely sunburned.
- Remember, most sunscreens lose their potency after one year. Buy a new bottle each season.
- There is no such thing as a “safe tan.”
- Avoid tanning booths.
- Tanning booth lights are primarily ultraviolet A but they also emit considerable ultraviolet B rays, which are directly linked with increased risk of skin cancer.
- The UV rays used by tanning salons cause the skin to age prematurely and can cause cataracts and damage to circulatory and immune systems.
For information, please visit: UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center Melanoma & Cutaneous Malignancies Unit
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