You may have heard that melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. And that's definitely true. But why is that? Read on for answers to this and other must-know questions about melanoma:
Q: What is melanoma?
A: Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the melanocytes, cells that give skin its color.
Q: Why is it so dangerous?
A: Melanoma is far less common than other types of skin cancer, such as squamous and basal cell carcinomas, but melanoma is more likely to spread deep into the skin or to other parts of the body if it isn't treated in time. It can even be fatal if it is diagnosed at a late stage.
Q: Who is at risk for melanoma?
A: You are more likely to get melanoma if you have fair skin that burns easily, but even people with dark skin can get melanoma. In fact, anyone can get this disease. One of the biggest risk factors is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light over the years—including light from the sun, sunlamps or tanning beds. Having many moles can also raise your risk of melanoma.
Q: Can you prevent it?
A: You can reduce your risk by limiting UV exposure. When spending time outdoors, wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Whenever possible, stay in the shade and wear protective clothing and gear, like long-sleeved shirts, hats and sunglasses. And don't try to tan—from the sun's rays or in a tanning booth.
Q: What does melanoma look like?
A: Signs to watch for include a new skin spot or a change in an existing mole.
When evaluating moles for possible melanoma, remember the ABCDEs of melanoma:
A—asymmetry. One half of the mole looks different from the other half.
B—borders. The mole has irregular borders.
C—color. The mole has multiple colors.
D—diameter. Most melanomas are larger than a pencil eraser.
E—evolving. The mole is changing in size, shape or color.
Tell your doctor if you notice any of these signs or if you notice other moles or skin changes that itch, ooze, bleed or just look abnormal. Melanoma can be successfully treated when caught early.
Regular skin screenings are essential to ensuring the early detection of skin cancer. Schedule an appointment with a Watson Clinic dermatologist by calling 863-904-6201 (Bella Vista Building), 863-680-7267 (Highlands & South), 813-633-6121 (Sun City Center), or 813-788-7867 (Zephyrhills).
Sources: American Academy of Dermatology: National Cancer Institute