Protect Your Skin: Prevent Melanoma

– Riverchase Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery –

Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, develops in the cells that produce melanin — the pigment that gives your skin its color. Melanoma can also form in your eyes and, rarely, in internal organs, such as your intestines.

The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning beds increases your risk of developing melanoma. Other factors, such as your genetic makeup, likely also play a role.

Limiting your sun exposure and avoiding tanning beds can help reduce your risk of melanoma. Knowing the warning signs of skin cancer can help ensure that cancerous changes are detected and treated before the cancer has a chance to spread. Melanoma can be treated successfully if it is detected early.

Melanomas can develop anywhere on your body, but they most often develop in areas that have had exposure to the sun, such as your back, legs, arms and face. Melanomas can also occur in areas that don’t receive much sun exposure, such as the soles  of your feet, palms of your hands and on fingernail beds. These hidden melanomas are more common in people with darker skin.

The first melanoma symptoms often are:

  • A change in an existing mole
  • The development of a new, unusual-looking growth on your skin

Normal moles are generally a uniform color, such as tan, brown or black, with a distinct border separating the mole from your surrounding skin. They’re oval or round and usually smaller than 1/4 inch in diameter — the size of a pencil eraser.

Most people have between 10 and 40 moles. Many of these develop by age 40, although moles may change in appearance over time — some may even disappear with age.

Other suspicious changes in a mole may include:

  •  Scaliness
  •  Itching
  •  Spreading of pigment from the mole into the surrounding skin
  • Oozing or bleeding

Cancerous (malignant) moles vary greatly in appearance. Some may show all of the changes listed above, while others may have only one or two unusual characteristics.

Factors that may increase your risk of
melanoma include:

  • Fair skin. Having less pigment (melanin) in your skin means you have less protection from damaging UV radiation. If you have blond or red hair, light-colored eyes, and you freckle or sunburn easily, you’re more likely to develop melanoma than is someone with a darker complexion. But melanoma can develop in people with darker complexions as well.
  • A history of sunburn. One or more severe, blistering sunburns as a child or teenager can increase your risk of melanoma as an adult.
  • Excessive ultraviolent (UV) light exposure. Exposure to UV radiation, which comes from the sun and from tanning beds, can increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.
  • Having many moles or unusual moles. Having more than 50 ordinary moles on your body indicates an increased risk of melanoma. Also, having an unusual type of mole increases the risk of melanoma.
  • A family history of melanoma. If a close relative, such as a parent, child, or sibling has had melanoma you have a greater chance of developing it as well.
  • Weakened immune system. People with weak immune systems have an increases risk of skin cancer. This includes people who have HIV/AIDS and those who have undergone organ transplants.

If you notice any skin changes that concern you visit your family doctor or general practitioner right away. Depending on your situation and the outcome of any tests, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin diseases (dermatologist) or to a doctor who specializes in cancer treatment (oncologist).

With five convenient locations throughout Southwest Florida, the skilled providers and staff of Riverchase Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery are happy to answer any questions you may have about melanoma or other skin issues. Contact the office nearest you today if you are concerned about any changes you notice on your skin.

Characteristics of unusual moles that may indicate melanomas or other skin cancers follow the A-B-C-D-E guide developed by the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • A is for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles with irregular shapes, such as two very different-looking halves.
  • B is for irregular border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or scalloped borders — characteristics of melanomas.
  • C is for changes in color. Look for growths that have many colors or an uneven distribution of color.
  • D is for diameter. Look for new growth in a mole larger than about 1/4 inch.
  • E is for evolving. Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows in size or that changes color or shape. Moles may also evolve to develop new signs and symptoms, such as new itchiness or bleeding.

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