Fun in the Sun?
An active life in the great outdoors can be invigorating and rewarding, but it also has its risks. A lifetime of sun exposure can put you at risk for melanoma. Understanding the dangers of this disease is critical.
Click through the slideshow and follow these guidelines to learn everything you need to know to stave off skin cancer without abstaining from summer fun.
What Is It?
Melanoma is the most dangerous and deadly form of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), only five percent of all skin cancer is melanoma, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths can be attributed to it.
If you’re a biker, hiker, fitness buff, avid gardener, or someone who regularly works or plays outside, it’s especially important to know some basics.
Melanoma is caused by excessive, unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It begins in melanocytes, which are skin cells that produce melanin, the pigment that creates your natural skin color.
When exposed to sunlight, melanocytes help tan the skin—a measure that protects you from burning. However, long-term exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays makes for cancer-causing changes in the melanocytes that can result in melanoma.
It’s essential to protect all exposed skin from the sun’s harmful rays whenever you step outside. Even one or two blistering sunburns in childhood can contribute to contracting melanoma in the far-off future.
Remember to avoid the sun at its strongest, from 10am to 3pm. You should also wear suitable protective clothing outside, such as wide brimmed hats, long sleeves, and long pants.
While the risk of getting melanoma increases with age and exposure to sunlight, those aren’t the only risk factors. People with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blonde hair are more susceptible to melanoma than those with darker skin and hair.
To help mitigate these risk factors, the Mayo Clinic recommends applying a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher to exposed skin—even in winter.
While many melanomas develop slowly, they can also advance quickly. Be vigilant and follow these screening tips:
- Visit a dermatologist annually.
- Do a thorough self-examination of your skin on a regular basis—once monthly or more frequently for higher risk groups.
- Examine yourself after a bath or shower.
- Pay attention to the color and shape of moles and birthmarks. Melanoma can appear as a new mole or it can develop in an already-existing one.
The ABCs of Melanoma
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), when examining moles or marks, watch for any of these signs:
- A is for asymmetrical—Look for moles that are irregular (not round) in shape.
- B is for border—Melanomas are usually not smooth; they’re ragged, notched, or elevated.
- C is for color—A benign mole is usually brown. A melanoma can be black, brown, white, or even pink or blue.
Don’t Forget the Ds and Es
The NIH also suggest watching for these two signs of melanoma:
- D is for diameter—Look for moles that are growing in size or are already a quarter inch—or about the size of an eraser on a pencil—in diameter.
- E is for evolving—Watch to see whether the mole changes over the course of a few weeks or months.
See a Doctor
Early detection is essential. If you discover any of the ABCDE symptoms as described, see a dermatologist immediately. Melanomas can spread, diminishing your chance of a quick, complete recovery. Your doctor may perform a biopsy if melanoma is suspected.
If melanoma is confirmed, there are a number of treatments available, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. However, protection is your best weapon against the sun’s harmful rays.