May is Melanoma Awareness Month

May is Melanoma Awareness Month
A melanoma poster hangs in a doctor's office

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - May is Melanoma Awareness Month across the United States. This month is certainly a unique time in our lives, as we also combat the impacts of COVID-19. With many at home, practicing safe-social distancing, we also find ourselves spending more time outdoors, around our homes, doing yard work, exercising, or washing the car.

As you spend time outside, be aware of the dangers of UV exposure. Skin damage caused by sunburn and overexposure to UV light is a leading cause of a deadly form of skin cancer called Melanoma.

In 2008, my mother lost a battle with this form of cancer and we were shocked with how quickly this cancer spread. When some think of skin cancer, it’s easy to vision a cancer limited to the surface of your body. The other form of skin cancer, called squamous cell carcinoma, is very treatable if caught at an early stage. Melanoma is also very treatable if caught early, however it is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, and can spread quickly to the internal organs within the body. Many patients being treated for melanoma sometimes learn about the disease after doctors discover cancer cells on an internal organ. So it’s important to always be mindful of any suspicious moles that develop on your body and know that early detection is key.

So what type of moles need to be further evaluated? The American Cancer Society recommends the ABCDE’s of skin cancer detection:

  • Asymmetry: Checking for moles in which one half looks different than the other.
  • Border: Checking for borders of a mole that appear irregular.
  • Color: Checking for changes in pigmentation.
  • Diameter: Checking for moles that are greater in size than 6mm (roughly larger in size than a pencil eraser).
  • Evolving: A mole that has changed in size, shape, or color.

If you’re unsure about any changes, schedule a check-up with your local dermatologist. If you’re still unsure you can always take a photo and later compare it with another photo. It's important to check your skin regularly and to schedule annual skin check-ups. There are many methods and mapping techniques being developed to help improve early skin cancer detection.

While most melanoma cases may be linked to UV light, there are some cases in which melanoma can occur in parts of the body that receives very little light. If a suspicious mole ever appears on a part of your body, like the bottom of your foot, I would schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.

Many skin cancers can be linked to damage that occurred in years past. However, we can do our part today in helping to reduce the chances of developing skin cancer in the future. Late spring is a tricky time of the year, as some days often bring surges of cooler weather. But even on the cooler spring days, and even cloudy days, it’s important to be sun-wise. As we countdown the weeks towards the arrival of the summer solstice, the sun angle will continue to increase. This will also increase our exposure to harmful UV rays. During the late spring, sunburn can develop within just 20 minutes without proper skin protection.

So what can we do to better protect our skin in the warmer months ahead? According to the American Cancer Society:

  • Avoid sun exposure between 10AM and 4PM
  • Always use sunscreen and lip balm with UVA and UVB protection (SPF 30 or more)
  • Apply sunscreen at-least 20 minutes before going outdoors
  • Re-apply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if swimming or if you are sweating
  • Wear sunglasses treated to absorb UV, a hat and UV protective clothing 
  • Protect children from the sun
  • Do not use tanning beds or sun-lamps

Consider practicing these safety tips, share your awareness of skin cancer with others, and be safe as we enjoy the longer days ahead.

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