About Melanoma

Are You At Risk For Melanoma?
As the days grow warmer and the sun shines brighter, it’s important to remember that too much sun exposure can be harmful - even deadly. “Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers - more than a million Americans develop it every year,” says Richard L. White, MD, Chief of Surgical Oncology at Carolinas Medical Center and the Levine Cancer Institute. “Melanoma accounts for about 1% of diagnosed skin cancers, but it’s the deadliest form.”


What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma can occur when ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds damage DNA in the skin, causing tumors to form in the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that colors the skin.

Melanomas can develop in pre-existing moles or appear as new moles. Hidden melanomas can grow on the scalp, under nails, on eyelids or in eyes, as well as on mucosal tissue lining the nose, mount, female genitals, anus, urinary tract and esophagus.

Unlike two other common types of skin cancer-basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma- untreated melanoma may spread to lymph nodes and internal organs. “Once it spreads, the prognosis is poor, so early detection is critical,” Dr. White says.


Can Melanoma be Cured?
With early detection and proper treatment, melanoma has a cure rate of about 95%. Melanoma is surgically removed. If it spreads, doctors may use chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy and gene therapy.


Prevention is Key
You can lower your risk for developing melanoma by:

  • Stay out of the sun between the hours of 10:00AM and 4:00PM
  • Avoid tanning beds
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher (reapply every two hours while outside, even on cloudy or hazy days)


Be Informed
Some of the risk factors for melanoma include:

  • a family history of melanoma
  • a personal history of more than 25 moles
  • large moles (larger than a pencil eraser)
  • unusual looking moles
  • fair skin
  • light eye or hair color
  • a suppressed immune system
  • excessive sun exposure as a child or adult
  • tanning salon usage
  • sun sensitivity

Check your skin each month for signs of skin cancer. Visit a dermatologist annually or more frequently if you are at a higher risk for melanoma.

From Carolinas Health- Summer 2009 Edition- Carolinas Medical Center now Atrium Health, used with permission.

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