Melanoma/ Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. The skin protects against heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. Skin also helps control body temperature and stores water and fat. Most cases of melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer, are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Melanoma is a kind of skin cancer. It isn’t as common as other types of skin cancer, but it is the most serious. Melanoma can affect your skin only, or it may spread to your organs and bones. As with other cancers, treatment for melanoma works best when the cancer is found early.

You can get melanoma by spending too much time in the sun. Too much UV radiation from sun exposure causes normal skin cells to become abnormal. These abnormal cells quickly grow out of control and attack the tissues around them. You are at higher risk for melanoma if you have fair skin, a family history of melanoma, or many abnormal, or atypical, moles. These moles may fade into the skin and have a flat part that is level with the skin. They may be smooth or slightly scaly, or they may look rough and “pebbly.” You may not have any symptoms in the early stages of melanoma. Or a melanoma may be sore, or it may itch or bleed.

There are several different types of skin cancer. Squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers are sometimes called non-melanoma skin cancers. Non-melanoma skin cancer usually responds to treatment and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Melanoma is more aggressive than most other types of skin cancer. If it isn’t diagnosed early, it is likely to invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. The number of cases of melanoma is increasing each year. Only 2 percent of all skin cancers are melanoma, but it causes most deaths from skin cancer. Rare types of skin cancer include Merkel cell carcinoma, skin lymphoma, and Kaposi sarcoma.

Melanoma may look like a flat, brown or black mole that has uneven edges. Melanomas usually have an irregular or asymmetrical shape. This means that one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half. They may be any size but are usually 0.25 in. (6 mm) or larger. Melanomas can be found anywhere on your body. Most of the time, they are on the upper back in men and women and on the legs of women. Your doctor will check your skin to look for melanoma. If your doctor thinks that you have melanoma, he or she will remove a sample of tissue (biopsy) from the area around the melanoma.

The most common treatment is surgery to remove the melanoma. That is all the treatment that you may need for early-stage melanomas that have not spread to other parts of your body. The best way to prevent all kinds of skin cancer, including melanoma, is to protect yourself whenever you are out in the sun. Check your skin every month for odd marks, moles, or sores that will not heal. Check all of your skin, but pay extra attention to areas that get a lot of sun, such as your hands, arms, and back. Ask your doctor to check your skin during regular physical exams or at least once a year.