By Jay M. Ritt, MD
In honor of Skin Cancer Detection & Prevention Month� in May, SSDP has decided to re-run these important tips about melanoma detection and prevention. If you have a question about your skin, contact our office at 508.535.DERM (3376) to schedule an appointment with one of our Board certified dermatologists.
1) What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a cancer of the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin, the normal pigmentation in the skin, eyes and hair.
2) How does melanoma differ from other kinds of skin cancers?
Of the three major types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma), melanoma is the least common but the most dangerous because it carries a far greater risk of spreading to other parts of the body (metastasizing). Melanoma is almost always curable if it is recognized and treated early. If it is not caught early, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal.
3) What causes melanoma?
Among the factors that predispose one to melanoma are:
A personal or family history of melanoma
A large number of moles
Irregular or atypical/unusual looking moles
Having fair skin, light hair and eyes, and a tendency to sunburn easily
A history of blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence
4) What are the warning signs?
The classic warning signs of melanoma can be remembered with the letters A-B-C-D-E. Check your moles regularly and visit your dermatologist if you notice any of the following indicators:
- A is an Asymmetrical mole, meaning one half looks different from the other half
- B stands for a jagged or irregular Border
- C represents a variety of Colors, meaning the mole may show shades of brown, black, white, blue, or pink.
- D means a large Diameter - greater than a pencil eraser. D can also mean very Dark.
- E is Evolution. A significant change in the appearance of a mole or the presence of itching, bleeding or other symptoms.
5) Does a mole have to show all of the warning signs to be of concern?
No. Many melanomas exhibit only one or two signs.
6) Are there times when a melanoma does not exhibit the typical warning signs?
Yes. A nodular melanoma may have none of the A-B-C-D properties. It may start by looking like a blood blister or pimple on your skin. If you notice a growth that feels firm to the touch, is elevated above the skin surface and continues to grow for more than two to three weeks, have your skin checked by a dermatologist to rule out this rare but agggressive form of the disease.
7) Can melanoma be prevented?
Melanoma cannot be completely prevented, but you can decrease your risk by reducing sun exposure, especially during the mid-day hours, wearing protective clothing, using sunscreen with a high SPF, and avoiding tanning beds.
8) Speaking of tanning beds, is there a connection between indoor tanning and melanoma?
The National Cancer Institute estimates that long-term exposure to ultraviolet rays from tanning beds or the sun increases the risk of developing skin cancer. Women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop malignant melanoma.
9) How often should one have a full body scan by a Board certified dermatologist?
For most people, an annual full body skin check by their dermatologist or primary care physician is sufficient. If a person has a personal or family history of melanoma, a large number of moles, or fair skin that burns easily, more frequent examinations may be needed. If you notice a new mole or a significant change in an existing mole, make an appointment with your dermatologist or primary care physician to have it checked. Don't wait.
10) What is the good news about melanoma?
The good news is that if it is caught early, melanoma is highly curable. The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads is 98%.
Learn more about the warning signs of melanoma on our website at www.southshorederm.com.
Jay M. Ritt, MD, is a Board certified dermatologist at South Shore Dermatology Physicians.
Do you have a question about the information in this e-newsletter or other topics in skin health? Phone SSDP at 508.535.DERM (3376) to schedule an appointment with one of our Board certified dermatologists, or email us from the Contact Us page on the SSDP website.