Learn How To Avoid Being A Part Of The Melanoma Epidemic

lady with a sunburnA day at the lake has turned painful, all because you forgot to put on sunscreen. Not only are you burnt to a crisp, but you may have also increased your risk of developing melanoma skin cancer.

Just this year, there have been more than 8,700 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society (pdf).

“Right now we are sort of dealing with an epidemic of melanoma in our country,” said Scott & White dermatologist David F. Butler, MD. “We feel that it’s most likely related to intense, brief sun exposure, like when you get sunburned; as opposed to long term, subtle sun exposure, like somebody who works outside every day.”

Information has also recently come out saying that the use of tanning beds also increases the risk of melanoma, he said.

“In fact, we’ve seen several young ladies in this past year who were found to have melanoma on their trunk,” Dr. Butler said. “They stated that they had frequently used tanning beds.”

Even though melanoma is a serious condition, the dermatologist said that the cure rate for skin cancer is 100 percent if it is identified and removed before it has spread.

So, how do you know if you have something to get checked or removed?

“Melanoma often presents as a dark or pigmented spot on the skin that has changed shape or color,” Dr. Butler said.

And if you have a mole that has changed in any way, that could also be a sign of melanoma.

The doctor said using the ABCDE method will help you determine if you should have your spot or mole looked at:

A – Asymmetry

Is it asymmetrical in shape – not round or symmetrical?

B – Border Irregularity

Does it have an irregular border to it?

C – Color

Are there different colors within the mole or spot?

D – Diameter

Is it bigger than six millimeters across?

E – Evolution

Has it changed in appearance over time?

Getting a suspicious spot or mole checked out by a doctor is the key to being able to cure melanoma. Waiting too long can be dangerous.

“Ninety-eight percent of people will actually die from melanoma if it spreads”

“The risk [in prolonging treatment] is that it will grow and invade more of the skin and spread to the lymph nodes, the liver or the lungs,” Dr. Butler said. “Ninety-eight percent of people will actually die from melanoma if it spreads.”

To protect yourself from this potentially-deadly type of skin cancer, the dermatologist suggests wearing sunscreen of at least a factor of 30 when you’re outdoors for a prolonged period of time and avoiding outdoor activities between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., if possible.

“The other major thing is avoiding tanning salons,” he said. “Just like smoking is a real risk of developing lung cancer, tanning carries a real risk of developing melanoma.”

For more information about skin cancer and to see if you might be at risk, visit the American Cancer Society’s website.

Scott & White also offers an annual skin cancer screening clinic in May that is free to the public. During this year’s clinic, 205 patients were screened and 46 of those patients were recommended for biopsies.

“You don’t have to have an appointment,” Dr. Butler said. “People just walk in and we examine them. And if they have something abnormal, we let them know.”

Despite the risk of melanoma, do you think it’s still okay to tan?