With summer in full swing, everyone is flocking to beaches, lakes, water parks and other outdoor venues to enjoy this warm, relaxing time of year. However, increased time in the sun leads to increased exposure to harmful UV rays that can cause skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and the American Cancer Society reports that 3.5 million cases will be diagnosed this year. A portion of those cases will include melanoma skin cancer, which begins in the cells that generate skin coloring or pigment known as melanin. The best way to keep yourself and loved ones protected is learn who is most at risk for melanoma, what symptoms to look for and how to prevent exposure.
Who is most at risk for melanoma?
- People with fair skin, freckling and light hair. Melanoma is more than 20 times more common in whites than African Americans. Whites with fair coloring or freckling are at increased risk.
- People with a family history of melanoma. Your risk of getting melanoma is increased if one or more immediate relatives has had it.
- People who have been exposed to ultraviolet rays. These include the sun and tanning lamps and beds.
- People with moles. While not all moles are cancerous, melanoma develops in the concentrated areas of melanin, so an increase in moles equals an increased risk of melanoma.
The good news is that melanoma can often be identified in its early stages, which is when it also has the best chance of being cured. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms and consult with your medical physician if you have any questions.
- A change in normal moles. Moles can be present at birth or develop early in life. Most are around the size of a pencil eraser or smaller and can be flat or raised and vary in color between tan and black. Moles tend to stay then same shape and color for many years; if you notice a change in color, shape or size, make sure to have it checked out my a physician.
- A new mole: If you find a new mole, the American Cancer Society recommends the ABCDE rule for determining if you need to go have the mole checked out by a physician.
A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
While melanoma cannot be entirely prevented, there are many things that can be done to lower your risk.
- Limit exposure to UV rays.
- “Slip! Slop! Slap!®… and Wrap” is an easy phrase to remember to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, and wrap on sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Take advantage of shade when enjoying outdoor activities, and make sure to take frequent breaks from the sun.