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Michigan Center for Skin Care Research

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May is Melanoma Awareness Month

Do you know:

  • Caucasians and men over 50 years of age are at a higher risk of developing melanoma than the general population.
  • Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.
  • One American dies of melanoma every hour.
  • The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected early before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It is a cancer that starts in the cells that give skin its color. While we don't know exactly how melanomas develop, we do know that there are certain risk factors that increase a person’s probability of developing a melanoma. These risk factors include:

  • Red or blonde hair, or blue or green eyes
  • Fair skin than tans poorly or burns easily
  • Greater than 50 moles, large moles or atypical (unusual ) moles
  • History of sunburns or indoor tanning use
  • A blood relative who has melanoma
  • A Previous diagnosis of either melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer
  • A history of other previous cancers, such as breast or thyroid cancer
  • 50 years of age or older

Of all the above risk factors, sun exposure (UV radiation) is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma.

Since melanoma can be deadly, early detection and treatment is essential. Melanoma can begin in an existing mole or it can develop suddenly. New, rapidly growing moles or moles that itch, bleed or change color are often early warning signs of melanoma and should be examined by a dermatologist. Regular skin exams (monthly self-skin exams and annual exams by your dermatologist) can help detect these changes. While examining your moles for a possible melanoma, follow the "ABCDE" rule for diagnosing melanoma:

  • A stands for asymmetry. This is when one side of the mole looks different than the other.
  • B stands for border. Melanomas have uneven borders or edges that are irregular, scalloped, ragged or undefined.
  • C stands for color. Melanomas have uneven coloring. They may have patchy areas of brown, red, blue, gray or black.
  • D stands for diameter. While melanomas are usually more than one-quarter inch (6 mm) across, some melanomas might be smaller. One-quarter inch is about the size of a pencil eraser.
  • E stands for evolving. Melanomas usually change in size, shape, or color over a short period of time.

If you have noticed any of the above warning signs, make an appointment with your dermatologist for a visual inspection of the mole. If there is a concern for melanoma, a biopsy will be performed. This is the only way to know for certain if the lesion is a melanoma. With early detection and diagnosis, surgical removal may be all the treatment that is required.

Decrease your chance of developing a melanoma by following these simple recommendations:

  • Seek shade when appropriate, especially between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, hat and sunglasses.
  • Apply your sunscreen! Remember sunscreen must be reapplied every two hours and after swimming or sweating because, yes, it stops working.
  • Avoid tanning beds!

Don't become a statistic, make your appointment for a full skin exam today at Midwest Center for Dermatology.