Everything You Need to Know About Melanoma
Skin cancer. It’s something that sparks various emotions for different people. Sadness. Anger. Resilience. Even triumph, specifically in cases where a person has overcome it.
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. This type of cancer develops in the cells that produce melanin - the pigment in the body that gives you your skin colour, hair colour, and eye colour.
It can also develop in the eyes and internal organs. Yet, these are often rarer than melanoma occurring on the biggest organ in the body, the skin.
While tanning used to be ‘cool,’ it’s now finger-pointed as a possible cause of melanoma. Sunscreen and other sun protection is smart. Those UV rays are more harmful than we used to think.
Surprisingly, melanoma incidences are also on the rise - especially in individuals under the age of 40. So, what do you need to know? What are the signs of melanoma? How can you protect yourself from skin cancer?
Melanoma happens in the cells that produce melanin called melanocytes. These cells may sometimes cluster together on the skin, creating moles. As long as a mole stays relatively the same colour, it’s often considered harmless.
It’s when the mole changes colour or size that there may be a cause for concern. Often, this is the first sign of melanoma. Basically, abnormal growth of cells begins to form on the skin.
Why does this happen? Usually, skin cells are formed. They serve their purpose. They die and shed or fall off. New and healthy skin cells replace these older cells. Your body is constantly doing this. In the case of cancer, the DNA of these cells becomes disrupted. New cells develop at an increasing rate and create abnormalities in the skin or organ affected.
Evidently, this can create various issues.
The skin is the body’s first line of defence against external factors. It protects the body from stress and harm caused by the sun’s rays, extreme temperatures, bacteria, germs, and more.
When the skin becomes under distress or comes under harm, the human body may struggle to function properly. It may not be able to efficiently control body temperature, create vital vitamin D, or remove waste products. In fact, melanoma can be deadly.
What Are Early Signs of Melanoma?
Detecting it early can help decrease your risk of melanoma developing into a life-threatening condition, as well as prevent the cancer from spreading.
Melanoma frequently develops or appears in areas that have had sun exposure. However, it’s not limited to this determinant. Individuals have reported melanoma on the soles of their feet and the palms of their hands.
But usually, melanoma appears as a noticeable change in an existing mole or unusual growth or pigmentation on the skin. If you notice any sudden change in your skin’s appearance, seek out the advice of your doctor or dermatologist. And, do it early. Don’t put it off. If it is skin cancer, it could develop into a serious condition. Your life isn’t something you want to mess with.
How do you identify unusual moles?
The Mayo Clinic recommends using the ABCDE method.
A → Asymmetrical Shape.
If a mole looks irregular, keep a close eye on it or bring it up with your doctor.
B → Border Irregularities.
If a mole has scalloped, notched, or irregular borders, it may be a sign of melanoma.
C → Colour Changes.
If the colour changes in a spot on the skin or on a mole or appears suddenly uneven, it may be wise to get an expert’s opinion.
D → Diameter.
A mole over 6 millimetres or ¼ of an inch may indicate or be at a higher risk of skin cancer. Further, if a mole begins to expand in size past these measurements, it may also be a sign. Get it checked out.
E → Evolving.
If a mole changes at all or seems to be altering throughout time in any way, this could indicate melanoma. Further, if it becomes itchy, irritable, or begins to bleed, get it looked at right away.
There is a treatment for it, showing promise - especially when caught early on. Your doctor may recommend to remove the cancerous skin patch or have you undergo radiation or chemotherapy.
How Can You Prevent Melanoma in the First Place?
Prevention is always number 1. Many habits and lifestyle factors lower your risk of skin cancer. What do you need to think about or do? Let’s take a look!
1. Limit your sun exposure - especially in the middle of the day.
The sun’s power is at its highest from about 10 am - 4 pm. If you plan on being outside for a long duration, consider doing so outside of these hours.
Note: Even when it’s cloudy, the UV rays do damage. The clouds actually offer next to no protection against these potentially dangerous rays.
2. Wear sunscreen and protective clothing.
If you do go outside during this time of day (and any time), make sure you’re protected. Wear sun hats. Apply and re-apply sunscreen. Go for an SPF of at least 30 and go for a water-resistant type, especially if you plan on being near the water.
Experts claim that even sunburns over time can create changes in the skin, leading to skin cancer.
3. Limit or avoid tanning.
Again, this comes down to the fact that overexposure to UV rays increases your risk of melanoma. Limit it whenever possible. This includes tanning outside and tanning beds.
4. Be aware of changes on your skin.
Notice the moles or pigmentations you already have, and note if they change. In other words, get to know your skin and body a little better. This way you’ll be able to notice when a change occurs that shouldn’t.
Melanoma Has One of the Highest Survival Rates
When detected early on, the cure rate is 90% for melanoma patients. When found early on, doctors can prevent it from spreading.
In Canada, melanoma is also the 7th most common type of cancer. Let’s start lowering these stats. Take the proper protection you need when venturing outside. Become more aware of your body and your skin by watching out for any changes that arise.
While a tan looks great, it might not be best, health-wise, for your skin. Be smart about the sun. Next time you hit the beach or head out for a hike, don’t forget the sunscreen or a hat. Take those precautions and take care of your health!
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