May: Melanoma Awareness Month

The weather in Augusta has been beautiful lately, and the pleasant temperatures probably mean that you and your family are spending a lot more time out in the sun – which puts you at a higher risk for developing melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer).  When you think about protecting your skin from the sun, you might associate applying sunscreen with long days on the beach relaxing by the ocean, spending hours in the garden or doing yard work, or maybe out on the lake all day boating with the family.  And while it’s certainly critical to protect your skin during these typical warm-weather activities, it’s actually just as important to consistently wear a strong and effective sun screen all year long – even if you don’t plan on being outdoors for a long periods of time.  And it’s important to note:  sunscreen isn’t the only precaution that you need to take to prevent melanoma.  That’s right, applying sunscreen simply isn’t enough.

May is melanoma awareness month, which is symbolized by a black ribbon.  Black is an appropriate color, as the majority of melanomas are black or brown.  But they can also be other colors – like red, pink, purple, blue, white, or even flesh-colored.  It’s a serious form of cancer that kills over ten thousand people each year, in the United States alone.

The good news is, melanoma is almost always curable when it’s caught and treated early.  But it’s vital to recognize it in the early stages; if not, the skin cancer can spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes much more difficult to treat and will be potentially fatal.

Melanoma Prevention

So what steps should you take to prevent skin cancer?  Sunscreen is a given.  But make sure it’s the correct type of sunscreen, and that you’re applying it properly – and regularly.  Sunscreen should be worn every single day, with a minimum SPF (sun protection factor) of 15.  For good measure, we recommend a higher SPF, like 30 or 45.  Make sure you’re applying enough of it.  The sunscreen you use to cover your body should measure at least 1 oz – or enough to fill a shot glass.  Don’t forget to check your lip balm to make sure it’s got SPF as well.

Self-examinations are the next step.  During the year (not just during the summer!), take the time once a month to examine your skin from head to toe.  Mark it on your calendar.  Better yet, set yourself a reminder on your smart phone.

What are you looking for during your self-exams?  Any new growths or new moles, and any existing moles that have started to grow or change in some way.  There’s a helpful acronym to help you remember what to look for:  the ABCDEs.

Know the ABCDEs

A is for asymmetry.  If a mole doesn’t look the same all the way around (meaning that, if you were to fold it in half, it wouldn’t match up), this is a warning sign.

B is for border.  Early melanoma tends to have uneven borders, with edges that might appear scalloped.  A mole that’s non-cancerous/benign will usually have a smooth border.

C is for color.  Non-cancerous moles are typically just one color, while melanoma usually has a variety of colors.

D is for diameter.  Melanomas might be small when first detected, but they’re usually larger than regular benign moles.  Using the eraser of a pencil is a good gauge here; if it’s larger than the eraser, it could be cause for concern.

E is for evolving.  If a mole starts to change in any way, take note.  Any change whatsoever in the color, shape, or size of the growth is a major warning sign and should be pointed out immediately to your doctor.

Involve your Doctor

Speaking of your doctor, he or she is another important part of the melanoma prevention process.  Be certain to schedule a professional skin exam ever year with your doctor – and don’t hesitate to contact your doctor immediately with any concerns about growths or moles.

For more information on melanoma prevention, including risk factors and treatment, please visit SkinCancer.org

On behalf of all of us at Augusta Oncology – have fun in the sun and stay safe!