May is National Melanoma Awareness Month. You most likely have heard of melanoma and know its a health risk, but many people aren't aware of how deadly melanoma really is. So, we're taking a hard look at one of the most lethal forms of cancer. We've compiled a list of 5 key facts which show why this particularly aggressive form of skin cancer is worth checking for whenever possible.
Fact 1 - Skin cancer is the most common cancer of all.
It is a fact. In North America, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer than every other cancer combined. That includes breast, lung, and leukemia, which each affect hundreds of thousands of people every year. While this statistic includes both non-melanoma cancer and melanoma, melanoma accounts for a significant portion.
Fact 2 - Melanoma is one of, if not THE deadliest cancer.
Although not the most common form of skin cancer melanoma is by far the deadliest. It is projected that every hour a person dies from Melanoma related complications.
What makes melanoma so dangerous is its tendency to spread. When detected early, doctors are usually able to remove the cancerous cells and prevent any complications. However, if not detected the cancerous cells can spread at a faster rate than many other cancers which is why there is such a high fatality rate.
Fact 3 - Men are at a greater risk of death than women.
It is estimated that nearly 10,000 people will die of melanoma in the U.S. every year. Of that number, over half of the fatalities are expected to be men. In fact, men age 49 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer including prostate. It's unclear exactly why the rate of death among men is higher than that of women, but remains an excellent reason to remind the guys in your life to get any unusual or new blemishes checked out.
Fact 4 - Younger women are more susceptible.
Other than breast and thyroid, women age 49 and under are more likely to develop melanoma than any other cancer. Unfortunately this age group is also most likely to engage in tanning or activities in direct sunlight. If you're a woman under 49 it's vital that you inspect your skin often for strange marks or changes in appearance.
Fact 5 - The Sun, cause number one.
While it likely comes at no surprise that the sun is the main cause of skin related health issues, the average person is likely unaware how damaging UV rays can be when it comes to the spreading of melanoma.
Generally speaking when we think of damage from the sun we think of peeling or a bad sunburn, but the damage can be much worse than that. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can actually harm the DNA in your skin cells. The DNA is the blueprint your body uses to repair itself, so if the genes that control cell growth are affected, your chances of developing skin cancer sky-rocket. One UK study found that about 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
Early detection will save your life
There's good news. Although melanoma is one of the most dangerous forms of cancer, it's also one of the simplest to check for. As with all forms of cancer, early detection is the key. And because your skin is the most visible organ of the body, monitoring for signs of melanoma is easy.
The most thorough way to inspect your skin for signs of skin cancer is through the ABCDE method.
|A = Asymmetry |
One half is unlike the other half.
|B = Border |
An irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
|C = Color |
Is varied from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red, or blue.
|D = Diameter |
Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.
|E = Evolving|
A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.
Dermatologists tips for checking your skin:
- Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then look at the right and left sides with your arms raised.
- Bend elbows and look carefully at forearms, underarms, and palms.
- Look at the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes, and the soles of your feet.
- Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part hair for a closer look.
- Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Don’t get sunburned.
- Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.