Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is the leading form of cancer in young adults between the ages of 25 and 29 and the second most diagnosed cancer in adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 29. And, the risk of developing skin cancer continues to increase as you age. It is important, therefore, to know who is most at risk and what the warning signs are.
Who is at Risk?
Over-exposure to the harmful UV rays of the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer and everyone has some risk of developing melanoma. There are, however, some factors which will put you at a higher risk:
- You have a family history of malignant melanoma
- You have more than 100 moles on your body
- You have blond or red hair and light color eyes
- You have fair skin and don't tan easily. You usually burn when out in the sun for any period of time.
- You have had sunburns as a child.
- Your have a compromised immune system,
including from an auto-immune deficiency, an illness or medication
Remember, even though you may not fit into any of these categories, you are still at risk of developing melanoma. There is increasing evidence that not only exposure to the sun, but using tanning beds also contribute to your risk of developing skin cancer.
Signs of Melanoma
Melanoma usually develops in an existing mole, but can also develop in spots where you did not have any mole previously. It is important to know your body, to be aware of moles, dark spots or irregularities so you notice as soon as there are any changes. If you have a mole that begins to change in size, color or shape, you should contact your doctor. If you see bumps, bleeding or ulcerations on a mole, you should also contact your doctor. The American Cancer Society developed the ABCDE method of looking at moles to help you determine if it is time to see your doctor:
A - Asymmetry
Most moles are symmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle of the mole, both sides should look the same. Moles that are asymmetrical can signal melanoma.
B - Border
Moles tend to have even borders, they are normally round or oval in shape with a smooth border all around. Melanoma may have jagged or uneven borders.
C - Color
Moles are normally all one color. While all moles are not the same color, they are usually evenly colored throughout and are brown, tan or black. Melanoma may have different shades of color in the same mole. Most are different shades of brown, tan or black but melanoma can also have shades of red, blue or a different color.
D - Diameter
If you have a mole that is larger than 1/4 inch (which is approximately the size of a pencil eraser), it could signal melanoma. These could be smaller if you detect it early. Be aware of any new moles that you develop.
E - Evolving
Moles usually don't change in size, shape or color. If you see changes in any mole, you should see your doctor.
Early detection and treatment of melanoma is extremely important. Being aware of your skin so that you notice any changes and can immediately seek medical help is the first step to making sure that melanoma does not interfere with your health.
"2009 Skin Cancer Fact Sheet: Statistics," 2009, American Cancer Society
"Do You Know the Signs of Skin Cancer?" Date Unknown, Dr. Rob, Discovery Communications
"Melanoma," 2011, Staff Writer, The Skin Cancer Foundation