Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Chappaqua Dermatologist Lydia M. Evans, M.D. answers some crucial questions on the subject.
What causes melanoma?
While excessive sun exposure increases your risk for melanoma, there is also a genetic predisposition in some individuals. Melanomas can develop in areas of the body that have never been exposed to the sun, and are also rarely found in the eyes and other body cavities. People with fair skin and blue eyes are at the highest risk, but no skin color is immune to this type of cancer.
Can melanoma ever be detected early?
Early detection of melanoma is vital, since the prognosis is directly related to how deeply the tumor penetrates into the skin. It is recommended that you try to examine your skin yourself once a month, and have a skin cancer screening body check by a dermatologist once a year. Melanoma is a complicated and sometimes aggressive tumor. Early detection with surgical excision remains the most effective therapy. If you see a questionable spot on yourself or your loved one, don’t ignore it. A simple skin exam can do much to save a life.
What are the warning signs of melanoma?
The warning signs that can help individuals identify suspicious lesions are known as the ABCDEs.
A = asymmetry. If you draw an imaginary line down the center of a mole, the two sides should look the same. If the mole appears to be asymmetric, it may be abnormal.
B = borders. Melanomas often have jagged borders; the edges may be scalloped or notched.
C = color. More than one color may indicate a problem, although normal moles can sometimes have some color variation. Melanomas range widely in color from black, brown and blue to red, pink, orange and tan.
D = diameter. Traditionally a diameter of six millimeters (about the size of a pencil’s eraser) or greater was considered a warning sign. However, many early melanomas are smaller than six millimeters, and many normal moles are larger.
E = evolving. Any lesion evolving: a spot changing in size, shape or color, or becoming raised after being flat.
How important is it to use sunscreen all year round?
Because there appears to be a relationship between sun exposure and melanoma, photo protection is crucial in prevention.
Make certain that your sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB light. UVA light stays at a fairly constant level all year round, so it is important to wear a sunscreen all year round, not just during the summer months.
The American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org
The Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com; The National Center for Biotechnical Information,
The Library for the National Institute of Health, www.ncbi.nlm
Learn more about Lydia Evans, MD, at www.lydiaevansmd.com