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May is Melanoma Awareness Month

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting one in five Americans. In fact, it is estimated that more than 8,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, and one person dies of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, every hour.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your skin cancer risk and detect skin cancer in its earliest stages, when it’s most treatable. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and the American Academy of Dermatology is asking the public to make sure their skin is “Looking Good in 2016” by practicing skin cancer prevention and performing regular skin self-exams.

As a board-certified dermatologist and member of the AAD, I have access to the American Academy of Dermatology’s free resources, which I am pleased to have the opportunity to share:

Melanoma FAQs from the American Academy of Dermatology

Q. What is melanoma?
A. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells. Melanomas may appear on the skin suddenly without warning but also can develop on an existing mole. The overall incidence of melanoma continues to rise. In fact, melanoma rates in the United States doubled from 1982 to 2011.1

Q.Is melanoma a serious disease?
A. Melanoma is highly curable when detected early, but advanced melanoma can spread to the lymph nodes and internal organs, which can result in death. It is estimated that 10,130 people will die from melanoma in 2016.2

Q. What causes melanoma?
A. Exposure to natural and artificial ultraviolet light is a risk factor for all types of skin cancer, including melanoma.2 Research indicates that UV light from the sun and tanning beds can both cause melanoma and increase the risk of a benign mole progressing to melanoma.3

Not all melanomas are exclusively UV-related - other possible influences include genetic factors and immune system deficiencies.

Q. Who gets melanoma?
A. Melanoma can strike anyone. Caucasians are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than other races. Even among Caucasians, however, certain individuals are at higher risk than others.2 For example:

In people of color, melanoma is often diagnosed at later stages, when the disease is more advanced. This may be because many people are under the mistaken impression that people of color cannot get skin cancer.20

Q. What are atypical moles?
A. Most people have moles (also known as nevi). Atypical moles are unusual moles that are generally larger than normal moles and variable in color. They often have irregular borders and may occur in far greater number than regular moles. Atypical moles occur most often on the upper back, torso, lower legs, head, and neck. It is important to recognize that atypical moles are not limited to any specific body area — they may occur anywhere. The presence of atypical moles is an important risk factor for melanoma developing in a mole or on apparently normal skin.

Q. What does melanoma look like?
A. Recognition of changes in the skin is the best way to detect early melanoma. They most frequently appear on the upper back, torso, lower legs, head and neck.13, 21 In females 15-29 years old, the torso/trunk is the most common location for developing melanoma, which may be due to high-risk tanning behaviors.13, 21 If you have a changing mole, a new mole or a mole that is different from the rest, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.

If you notice a mole on your skin, you should follow the ABCDE rule, which outlines the warning signs of melanoma:

The American Academy of Dermatology urges everyone to examine their skin regularly. This means looking over your entire body, including your back, your scalp, your palms, your soles and between your toes.

If you notice a mole different from others, or one that changes, itches or bleeds, even if it is smaller than 6mm, you should make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist as soon as possible. 

Q. Can melanoma be cured?
A. When detected in its earliest stages, melanoma is highly curable. The average five-year survival rate for individuals whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent. Five-year survival rates for regional (lymph nodes) and distant (other organs/lymph nodes) stage melanomas are 63 percent and 17 percent, respectively.2 

Early detection is essential. Dermatologists recommend a regular self-examination of the skin to detect changes in its appearance. Changing, suspicious or unusual moles or blemishes should be examined as soon as possible. A dermatologist can make individual recommendations as to how often a person needs a skin exam from a doctor based on individual risk factors, including skin type, history of sun exposure and family history. Individuals with a history of melanoma should have a full-body exam at least annually and perform monthly self-exams for new and changing moles.22

Q. Can melanoma be prevented?
A. Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma.23 Here’s how to prevent skin cancer:

Learn more about skin cancer:
Melanoma
Skin cancer detection
Skin cancer prevention
Skin cancer fact sheet

Sources:

Guy GP Jr, Thomas CC, Thompson T, Watson M, Massetti GM, Richardson LC. Vital signs: melanoma incidence and mortality trends and projections - United States,1982-2030. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015 Jun 5;64(21):591-6.

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2016. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2016.

Shain, AH et al. The genetic evolution of melanoma from precursor lesions. N Engl J Med 2015; 373: 1926-1936.

Eide MJ, Weinstock MA. Association of UV index, latitude, and melanoma incidence in nonwhite populations--US Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, 1992 to 2001. Arch Dermatol. 2005 Apr;141(4):477-81.

Hu S, Ma F, Collado-Mesa F, Kirsner RS. UV radiation, latitude, and melanoma in US Hispanics and blacks. Arch Dermatol. 2004 Jul;140(7):819-24

Jemal A, Saraiya M, Patel P, et al. Recent trends in cutaneous melanoma incidence and death rates in the United States, 1992–2006. J Am Acad Dermatol 2011;65:S17.

Wu S, Han J, Laden F, Qureshi AA. Long-term ultraviolet flux, other potential risk factors, and skin cancer risk: a cohort study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomar Prev; 2014. 23(6); 1080-1089.

Ting W, Schultz K, Cac NN, Peterson M, Walling HW. Tanning bed exposure increases the risk of malignant melanoma. Int J Dermatol. 2007 Dec;46(12):1253-7.

Colantonio S, Bracken MB, Beecker J. The association of indoor tanning and melanoma in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Acad Dermatol 2014;70:847–57.

Little EG, Eide MJ. Update on the current state of melanoma incidence. Dermatol Clin. 2012:30(3):355-61.

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2013. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2013

Bower CP, Lear JT, Bygrave S, Etherington D, Harvey I, Archer CB. Basal cell carcinoma and risk of subsequent malignancies: a cancer registry-based study in southwest England. J Am Acad Dermatol 2000;42:988-91.

World Health Organization, Solar ultraviolet radiation: Global burden of disease from solar ultraviolet radiation. Environmental Burden of Disease Series, N.13. 2006.

Hemminki K, Dong C. Subsequent cancers after in situ and invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Arch Dermatol 2000;136:647-51.

Rosenberg CA, Greenland P, Khandekar J, Loar A, Ascensao J, Lopez AM. Association of nonmelanoma skin cancer with second malignancy. Cancer 2004;49:81-5.

Grenader T, Goldberg A, Shavit L. Second cancers in patients with male breast cancer: a literature review. J Cancer Surviv. 2008;2(2):73-78.

Satram-Hoang S, Ziogas A, Anton-Culver H. Risk of second primary cancer in men with breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res. 2007;9(1):R10.

Auvinen A, Curtis R, Ron E. Risk of subsequent cancer following breast cancer in men. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94(17):1330-1332.

Canchola A, Horn-Ross P, Purdie D. Risk of secondary primary malignancies in women with papillary thyroid cancer. Am J Epidemiol. 2006;163(6):521-527.

Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, Garshell J, Miller D, Altekruse SF, Kosary CL, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z,Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2012, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, based on November 2014 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2015.

Cancer Epidemiology in Older Adolescents & Young Adults. SEER AYA Monograph Pages 53-57.2007.

Berg, A. US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for skincancer.http://archive.ahrq.gov/clinic/ajpmsuppl/skcarr.htm

Robinson, JK. Sun Exposure, Sun Protection and Vitamin D. JAMA 2005; 294:1541-43.

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