May is Melanoma Awareness Month, the perfect time to learn about prevention and early detection of melanoma!
Did you know that most melanomas are diagnosed before they become even 1 millimeter (1/25 of an inch) deep in the skin? Most melanomas are broad and thin when they first develop, so they are generally wider than a pencil eraser, but extremely thin. Fortunately, most melanomas are diagnosed at this thin stage and most of these can be cured with a simple surgical excision. If they are left untreated and extend deeper into the skin, the prognosis is substantially worse, so delays in diagnosis and treatment can affect outcomes.
In the past five years several drugs (immunotherapies and medications targeted to act on specific proteins produced by melanoma tumors) have been developed and FDA approved for treatment of metastatic melanoma, resulting in better outcomes for advanced disease. However, prevention and early detection with prompt surgical treatment remain by far the most important ways that we tackle melanoma.
Sun protection is critical for people of all skin types, and especially for fair-skinned individuals who are at highest risk. In addition to sunscreen (broad spectrum, at least SPF 30, reapplied frequently), we also recommend hats and sun-protective clothes. Seek shade when possible, and consider scheduling your outdoor activities in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the peak sun hours during the middle of the day.
We also recommend that you examine your moles regularly and see a dermatologist for evaluation if you identify a new or changing mole, or a mole that looks different than your others. Be particularly suspicious of moles with ABCD: Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color variation, or Diameter larger than a pencil eraser.
If you have a history of skin cancer, atypical appearing moles, a first degree family member with a history of melanoma, a history of tanning bed use or significant chronic skin sun damage, it is advisable that you see a dermatologist at least once per year for a complete exam of all moles on your body.
More information about melanoma can be found at the American Academy of Dermatology website.