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Melanoma: A Brief Guide

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer where the pigment creating cells called melanocytes mutate and divide uncontrollably. Melanomas can appear anywhere on the skin however some areas are more common than others. For women, it is more likely for them to appear on the legs while for men it is more common on the back and chest. Additionally, melanomas can appear on other parts of the body including the eyes and even the intestines. Melanoma is the fifth most common kind of cancer for both men and women and is much more common in people with fair skin. The development of melanoma is much more common as people age with the average age of diagnosis being 65.

Risk Factors:

There are certain risk factors that increase the chances of developing melanoma. It is important to be aware of these risk factors in order to assess your risk and know when to speak with your doctor. Factors such as a high level of moles, more than five atypical moles, liver spots, and a high density of freckles can be risks for developing skin cancer. Other risks include family history, pale skin with a tendency to burn, red or light-colored hair, high levels of sun exposure, and older age. The only controllable risk factor is your level of sun exposure, which highlights the importance of practicing safety while in the sun. Protect your skin by avoiding high UV rays and using sunscreen and protective clothing to reduce direct sun exposure and decrease your risk.

Symptoms:

Melanoma can be difficult to spot early but it is important to monitor your skin and take note of any changes that may occur. Skin changes such as the development of a new mole and growth or color change of an existing mole are two factors to monitor closely. Other symptoms include a skin sore that fails to heal, spots that become painful or itchy, red spots that are dry or scaly, and spots or lumps that are shiny or pale. Closely monitor and take note of these changes. If you do have questions, concerns, or are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is crucial to speak with your doctor.

ABCDE Examination:

This examination helps individuals assess their moles to help identify if they could be potentially cancerous.

  • Asymmetric: Cancerous moles are typically not symmetrical, with one side looking different than the other
  • Border: The border of the mole is blurred or ragged rather than smooth and defined
  • Color: Cancerous moles have uneven colors with black, brown, and tan mixes or even blue pigment.
  • Diameter: Melanoma can cause changes in the size of existing moles, an indicator could include a mole growing to over a quarter of an inch.
  • Evolving: Changes in the appearance of moles over time.

These five indicators can help determine the possibility of cancerous spots. If you are concerned about changes in your skin or moles it is important to voice your nerves with a professional to discuss them further.

Prevention:

Protecting your skin from the sun is the best way to help decrease your risk of developing melanoma. It is vital to avoid getting sunburns as best as possible. Methods to reduce the risk of burns include avoiding the sun from 10 am to 4 pm when it is the strongest and wearing full-coverage clothing when in the sun. When you do go out in the sun it is important to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure and using sunscreen with a minimum protection of 30 SPF. The best choices when looking for sunscreens are options that have physical blockers such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. It is crucial to protect your skin from the sun to prevent damage, reduce the risk of developing skin cancer and stay healthy.

Melanoma can be aggressive cancer that can becomes dangerous as it spreads, catching it early decreases the severity of the condition. Assess your personal risk factors for melanoma and assess your skin condition for any changes to be aware of. Furthermore, it is crucial for you to take the proper precautions when in the sun to protect your skin from damage. If you are concerned about your risk factors or any existing conditions it is important to consult a doctor and discuss your worries with them as early intervention is crucial.

For more information regarding melanoma check out these resources:

What to know about melanoma

[Malignant Melanoma in the Elderly](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3213678/#:~:text=Conclusions%3A Elderly (≥70 yrs,is seen among the elderly.)

[Melanoma: Statistics](https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/melanoma/statistics#:~:text=This year an estimated 106%2C110,people than in Black people.)

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