Did you know that your skin is the largest organ of your body? Your skin serves many beneficial purposes.
Not only does it protect you from injury, germs, and dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays, but it also helps regulate body temperature, detect the sensations of heat, cold, pressure, contact, and pain, and produce vitamin D, which comes from sun exposure.
Since your skin plays such an important role in protecting your body, you should take steps to keep it as healthy as you can.
Melanoma: The Most Fatal Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, killing about 10,000 people in the United States annually. While melanoma accounts for only one percent of skin cancer cases, it causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths, and death rates continue to rise each year.
Melanoma is almost always curable, but only if it is detected early. Like all types of cancer, skin cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, making it hard for oncologists to treat, and the outcome could be fatal.
Melanoma is a cancer that starts in melanocytes – the cells that make up your skin pigment known as melanin, which gives skin its color. Melanin helps protect the deeper layers of the skin from sun damage.
Melanoma Risk Factors
Everyone is at some risk for melanoma, but increased risk depends on several factors. Risk factors for skin cancer include:
- Sun Exposure: Both UVA and UVB rays are dangerous to the skin and can cause skin cancer, including melanoma. Blistering sunburns in early childhood increase your risk, but constant exposure is also a factor.
- Moles: People with many moles (more than 100), or moles that are irregular and unusual-looking, have a greater chance of developing melanoma.
- Family History: Any person who has a first-degree relative (mother, father, siblings, or children) diagnosed with melanoma has a 50 percent greater chance of developing melanoma than the person who does not have a family history.
- Skin Type: Those with fair skin are at increased risk of developing melanoma.
- Immune system: Any person with a compromised immune system may be at risk for developing melanoma.
In addition to melanoma, there are other types of skin cancer, and it is important to know which type you have, so you can receive the proper treatment. Moles, brown spots, and growths on the skin are usually harmless, but not always.
It is important to get to know your skin well and to recognize any changes in the color of your skin or the moles on your body. Look for the ABCDE signs of melanoma, and if you notice any changes or you are uncertain, make an appointment with a dermatologist immediately.
- Asymmetry: Draw an imaginary line through your mole. Do both sides look alike? If not, see your doctor.
- Border: Look at the outside edge of your mole. Are its edges sharp and easy to distinguish from surrounding skin? If the edges look ragged or fuzzy, see your doctor.
- Color: Check the color of your mole. Is it the same throughout or does it vary with shades of dark brown, black, white, red, or blue? If it isn’t the same color throughout, see your doctor.
- Difference: Have your moles changed in size, shape, or color? Are they suddenly itchy? Most moles on a person’s body share a common look; did you find one that looks different than the others? Do you have a new, changing mole or suspicious-looking patch of skin? Any time you notice a difference in moles, see your doctor.
- Evolution: When it comes to diagnosing melanoma, it’s vitally important to know what’s normal for your skin and check it regularly for changes. Benign moles don’t change, but malignant moles do. You should let your dermatologist know about any mole that has changed (evolved) according to the factors above.
Remember, skin cancer – specifically melanoma – is curable if detected early. You can prevent melanoma by protecting yourself from the sun and dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays. If you have a family history of skin cancer, then it is even more crucial that you take every precaution and follow the ABCDEs of detecting skin cancer.
To find out if you are at risk for melanoma, call your Intercoastal Medical Group primary care physician in Sarasota/Manatee County, Florida today to evaluate your need for an appointment with one of our dermatologists.