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With summer just around the corner, it is a great time brush up on your skin health knowledge. One of the most serious concerns with increased sun exposure is melanoma. Melanoma is one of the top 7 most common cancers in Canada. The risk of melanoma incidence has increased from 1 in 1500 in the 1930’s to 1 in 63 in present day. It’s important to be aware of the risk factors, prevention measures and warning signs of melanoma because the survival rate is high when caught early on.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a malignancy of the melanocytes (the cells that are responsible for producing melanin, which pigments skin). Although 90% of melanomas are on within the skin, 10% can arise in other areas of the body including mucosal surfaces such as the eye or mouth. Melanoma can develop on sun-exposed areas or from pre-existing moles.
The leading cause of melanoma is UV radiation exposure from the sun’s rays or other artificial sources such as tanning beds.
Who is at risk?
It only takes one blistering sunburn to double your chance of developing melanoma. Those with light hair (blond or red), light eyes, fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, many moles, a history of sun burns or are sensitive to the sun have a higher risk of melanoma. Exposure to tanning beds can increase your chance of developing melanoma by 75%.
UV radiation from the sun is able to penetrate clouds and fog so you are at risk even on a cloudy day. It can reflect off surfaces such as water, sand, concrete or snow which can increase its intensity.
It is important to remember that anyone can develop skin cancer even if you do not have any of the risk factors mentioned above.
How to stay safe:
It’s important to be diligent and aware of lesions on your body. It’s a great idea to do a check every month to monitor any changes in pre-existing moles or note the appearance of new ones. Having regular skin examinations done by your health care practitioner as well as self-screening are recommended.
Other tips to stay safe:
- Minimize sun exposure
- Try to minimize the amount of time you’re spending in direct sunlight. This doesn’t mean you have to spend your summer indoors, just make sure you’re staying in shaded areas with adequate sun protection.
- Use SPF Sunscreens
- A 2011 study with over 1600 people showed that the incidence of melanoma was decreased by 50-73% with regular sunscreen use.
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day (even in the winter and on cloudy days)
- It is important to reapply often, especially if you are sweating, moving around or in a pool or water.
- Be sure to apply sunscreen to all areas of the skin – this includes the face, ears, hands and feet.
- Cover Up
- Dress to minimize exposed skin. Remember: UV rays can penetrate clothing so it is important to stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible even with coverage.
- Wear a Hat
- One area that is prone to overexposure to sun is the top of the head. Be sure to wear a hat to decrease this risk.
- Perform Regular Self-Examinations
- Perform regular self exams to monitor any changes in existing moles or the appearance of new ones.
- Note the ABC’s of self-examinations below.
The ABC’s of Melanoma
These are warning signs to keep track of in either pre-existing moles or new lesions. It is important to always consult with your health care practitioner and have them perform regular skin exams.
Abnormal findings can include:
A – Asymmetry
– An asymmetric appearance of the mole (either in shape or colour)
B – Border Irregularity
– Borders that look different than other areas of the mole in either shape, colour or texture
C – Colour
– Variation of colours within the mole- such as red, brown, white, pink or grey
D – Diameter
– Moles larger than 6mm in diameter
E – Evolution
– Any changes in the mole over time (either in colour, size, shape or texture)
Get out, stay safe and enjoy your summer!
American Cancer Society. (2016). What Causes Melanoma Skin Cancer?. Cancer.org. Retrieved 19 May 2017, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/what-causes.html
Burnett, M., & Wang, S. (2011). Current sunscreen controversies: a critical review. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine, 27(2), 58-67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0781.2011.00557.x
Green, A., Williams, G., Logan, V., & Strutton, G. (2011). Reduced Melanoma After Regular Sunscreen Use: Randomized Trial Follow-Up. Journal Of Clinical Oncology, 29(3), 257-263. http://dx.doi.org/10.1200/jco.2010.28.7078
Melanoma Network of Canada. (2017). About Melanoma. Melanoma Network of Canada. Retrieved 19 May 2017, from https://www.melanomanetwork.ca/melanoma/
Melanoma Research Foundation. (2017). Understanding Melanoma: Sunscreen. Melanoma Research Foundation. Retrieved 19 May 2017, from https://www.melanoma.org/understand-melanoma/preventing-melanoma/facts-about-sunscreen