May 2, 2016

by Mankato Clinic

The sun is shining and the weather is warmer, leaving many of us in southern Minnesota shedding some layers and baring our skin. But, when you do that, remember that May is Melanoma month and the perfect time for you to review proper skin-care etiquette for the summer ahead.

Melanoma is widely known as the most serious type of skin cancer and develops in your body’s cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. Not just found in skin, melanoma can also form in your eyes and rarely in internal organs like the intestines.

It’s unclear what the exact cause of melanoma is but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight, tanning lamps and tanning beds largely increase your risk of developing skin cancer. To help reduce your risk of melanoma, limit your exposure to UV radiation as much as possible.

Often times, melanoma can be treated successfully if it is detected early, which is why it’s so important to understand the symptoms of the disease. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, but most often develop in areas that have more exposure to the sun like your back, arms, face and legs. They can also occur in areas that don’t receive much sun exposure like the soles of your feet, palms of your hands and fingernail beds. These harder to spot melanomas are more common in people with darker skin.

The first signs and symptoms of melanoma are a change in an existing mole or the development of a new pigmented or unusual-looking growth on your skin. It’s important to note that melanoma doesn’t always begin as a mole, but it can also occur on otherwise normal skin.

Checking for unusual moles that can indicate melanomas or other skin cancers is as easy as knowing your ABCs:

A – Asymmetrical shape. Look for moles with irregular shapes, like two different halves

B – Irregular border. Look for moles with notched, scalloped or irregular moles

C – Changes in color. Look for growths that have an uneven distribution of color

D – Diameter. Look for new growth in a mole larger than ¼ inch

E – Evolving. Look for changes over time, like a mole that changes in color or shape or grows in size. Moles can also change and develop new signs and symptoms and may bleed or itch.

An easy rule of thumb: look for the “ugly duckling” – a mole that doesn’t belong with the rest.

Unfortunately, everyone is at risk for melanoma, but factors that can increase your risk include: fair skin, a history of sunburn, excessive UV exposure, living closer to the equator or at a higher elevation, having many or unusual moles, a family history of melanoma or weakened immune system.

The best thing you can do for your skin is to give it the necessary protection it needs from the sun’s harmful UV rays. To help reduce your risk of melanoma and other types of skin cancer be sure to avoid the sun during the middle of the day, wear sunscreen year-round, wear UV protective clothing, avoid tanning lamps and beds and become familiar with your skin so that you notice changes. Seek your dermatology provider for routine skin exams to help better understand your skin and receive guidance of any questions or concerns you may have.