Melanoma Q & A

Q. What is melanoma?
A. Melanoma, the most serious form of Skin Cancer, is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells. Melanomas may appear on the skin suddenly without warning, but also can develop on an existing mole. The overall incidence of melanoma continues to rise.

Q. Is melanoma a serious disease?
A. Melanoma is highly curable when detected early, but advanced melanoma spreads to the lymph nodes and internal organs and can result in death. On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour.

Q. What causes melanoma?
A. Excessive exposure to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun and Tanning Beds are the most important preventable causes of all skin cancers, including melanoma. People who live close to the equator where the sunlight is more intense are more likely to develop melanoma and suffer from Pre-Mature Agingthan those in other regions. Exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of melanoma, especially in women aged 45 years or younger. Not all melanomas are exclusively sun related — other possible influences include genetic factors and immune system deficiencies.

Q. Who gets melanoma?
A. Melanoma can strike anyone. Caucasians are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than other races. However, even among Caucasians, certain individuals are at higher risk than others.

For example:

Q. What are atypical moles?
A. Most people have moles (also known as nevi). Atypical moles are unusual moles that are generally larger than normal moles, variable in color, often have irregular borders and may occur in far greater number than regular moles. Atypical moles occur most often on the upper back, torso, lower legs, head and neck. It is important to recognize that atypical moles are not limited to any specific body area — they may occur anywhere. The presence of atypical moles is an important risk factor for melanoma developing in a mole or on apparently normal skin.

Q. What does melanoma look like?
A. Recognition of changes in the skin is the best way to detect early Melanoma. They most frequently appear on the upper back, torso, lower legs, head and neck.4,12 In females 15-29 years old, the torso/trunk is the most common location for developing melanoma, which may be due to high-risk tanning behaviors.4,12 If you have a changing mole, a new mole, or a mole that is different, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.

If you notice a mole on your skin, you should follow the simple ABCDE rule, which outlines the warning signs of melanoma:

Q. Can melanoma be cured?
A. When detected in its earliest stages, melanoma is highly curable. The average five-year survival rate for individuals whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent. Five-year survival rates for regional (lymph nodes) and distant (other organs/lymph nodes) stage melanomas are 62 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

Early detection is essential. Dermatologists recommend a regular self-examination of the skin to detect changes in its appearance. Additionally, patients with risk factors should have a complete skin examination by a board-certified dermatologist annually. Anyone with a changing, suspicious or unusual mole or blemish should be examined as soon as possible. Individuals with a history of melanoma should have a full-body exam at least annually and perform monthly self-exams for new and changing moles.

Q. Can melanoma be prevented?
A. Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma.1,14 You can have fun in the sun and reduce your risk of Skin Cancer. In 2010, new research found that daily sunscreen use cut the incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in half.15 Here’s how to prevent skin cancer:

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