Today is the last day of Melanoma Awareness Month. For the month of May, advocates have been doing what they can to fight the most deadly skin cancer, which is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in the United States, with incidence on the rise, according to the Melanoma Research Alliance. Nearly 10,000 people in the United States are expected to die of melanoma in 2017.
Early identification and prevention of melanoma are keys to education initiatives, as survival rates for late-stage melanoma are low in spite of ongoing research to improve understanding of the disease and its treatment. However, if caught early the five-year relative survival rate is more than 98 percent.
Know your ABCs
The Melanoma Research Alliance suggests using ABCDE to help you remember what to look for during regular monthly skin checks, which can greatly improve the chances of early detection. Particularly take note of moles or growths that are or have any of these warning signs, which indicate a visit to your health care provider is in order.
A – asymmetrical
B – borders that are irregular
C – color changes
D – diameter larger than a pencil eraser
E – evolved in size or thickness
Dermatologists and general practitioners can perform routine skin examinations as well for those who don’t want to rely on self-checks. Recently a group of 50 dermatologists recommended yearly exams for people 35 to 75 years old who have a family history of melanoma or previous history of skin cancer; those with light skin, blonde or red hair, or lots of freckles; those who have a history of indoor tanning, sunburns, or severely damaged skin; and those with 40 or more birthmarks or 2 or more atypical birthmarks or unusual moles.
Other people who might be at higher risk for melanoma include those who have taken PDE-5 inhibitors such as Viagra (sildenafil). Recent studies have shown statistically significant association between the drugs and increased melanoma risk. One large study found sildenafil users to be 84 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who had not taken the drug. Another study published last year showed the mechanism by which these drugs cause the cancer to “grow more vigorously.”
Besides avoiding drugs that might increase risk of developing melanoma, the most important way to prevent the disease is to avoid exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.
- Wear Sunscreen. Sunscreen every day is important, not just by the pool or at the beach. Damage can be done even on cool or cloudy days. Choosing the right sunscreen is important: SPF of at least 30 is recommended and broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays.
- Wear Protective Clothing. This includes hats and sunglasses.
- Avoid Peak Rays. In the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead the most damage can be done; avoid exposure during this time.
- Don’t Use Tanning Beds. Tanning beds increase melanoma risk by up to 75 percent. Indoor tanning is blamed for the high rate of diagnosis of melanoma in young adults; it’s one of the top three cancers to affect those age 25-29, especially young women.
- Protect Children. Severe sunburns at a young age double a child’s chances of later developing melanoma.
Melanoma Research Alliance