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May 4, 2013

Local dermatologist emphasizes importance of skin self-examinations

May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month

CUMBERLAND — Melanoma Monday is the first Monday in May. The SPOT Orange campaign, sponsored by the Academy of Dermatology, is designed to raise public awareness about malignant melanoma, a potentially fatal form of cancer, and encourages early detection through self-examinations.

May is also National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. An estimated one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer during their lifetime and, on average, one person dies from melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — every hour.

Melanoma occurs from skin growths know as moles. Early detection is key, as melanoma has a 98 percent cure rate when discovered early. Undetected, melanoma can be fatal. It is estimated that about 75 percent of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma. In 2013, it is expected that 9,480 deaths will be attributed to melanoma — 6,280 men and 3,200 women. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 65,000 people a year worldwide die from melanoma.

Melanoma can appear suddenly without warning or it can develop from an existing mole. If you spot anything changing, itching or bleeding, see a dermatologist. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body but are most common on the upper back, torso, lower legs, head and neck.

Before age 40, melanoma incidence rates are twice as high in women as men; after 40, the incidence rate becomes higher in men. Caucasian men over 50 are in the highest risk category of developing melanoma. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-24 years old.

It can strike anyone but there is an increased risk for individuals who have red or blond hair and/or blue or green eyes; have greater than 50 moles, large moles or unusual moles; have a blood relative who has had melanoma; have had a previous diagnosis of melanoma or other forms of skin cancer; or have had other previous cancers, such as breast or thyroid cancer.

The major risk factor for melanoma is ultraviolet light exposure. Daily sunscreen use cuts the incidence of developing it in half. Exposure to tanning beds increases the risk, especially in women ages 45 and younger. The American Academy of Dermatology encourages everyone to protect their skin by applying sunscreen, seeking shade and wearing protective clothing.

“Follow your ABCs, but remember change, change, change,” said Dr. Sean McCagh, dermatologist at McCagh, Roberts and Herring Dermatology Center. “Now is the time to look yourself over. With the arrival of spring and summer approaching, more people will be exchanging their sweaters and sweatshirts for T-shirts and short sleeves. Now is the time to look your skin over and to encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you see something that looks funny, check it out. Many of the melanomas we see at McCagh, Roberts and Herring are on people who knew they had a funny-looking mole or who didn’t listen to family and friends who told them to see a dermatologist until it was too late.”

The ABC warning signs of melanoma are:

A: Asymmetry — one half does not match the other

B: Border Irregularity — the edges are ragged, notched, blurred or fuzzy. Moles are star-shaped or clam-shaped.

C: Color or Change — the color is not uniform.

D: Diameter — most melanomas are greater than 6 millimeters or larger than a pencil eraser. Some are smaller.

E: Expanding/Evolving — a mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.

“Preventing skin cancer doesn’t mean you can’t go out and enjoy yourself in the sun,” McCagh added. “It just means you should follow some precautionary steps.” Those steps include generously applying a broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen with at least SPF30 to all exposed skin and reapplying every two hours, even on cloudy days and after swimming or sweating.

Wear protective clothing, long-sleeve shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Seek shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Get vitamin D through a healthy diet than may include vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun. Avoid tanning beds. Check your birthday suit on your birthday and the first time you go swimming every year. If you have concerns, make an appointment with your dermatologist.

For more information on melanoma and other skin cancers, visit online the American Academy of Dermatologists at www.aad.org.

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