Take Care of the Skin You’re In: May is Melanoma Awareness Month

May 3, 2016

Take Care of the Skin You’re In: May is Melanoma Awareness Month

During the month of May, the spring season is in full bloom, and summer is just around the corner. This time of year, many people begin to spend more time outside, enjoying longer daylight hours and abundant sunshine. While this might seem harmless, it’s important to take care of the skin you’re in and protect it from the sun’s damaging rays.

In recognition of Melanoma Awareness Month and to advance its mission of Making Communities Healthier®, Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital wants to ensure community members know the signs and symptoms of melanoma, as well as other forms of skin cancer. The hospital also encourages the practice of healthy habits that can help prevent this increasingly common and potentially deadly disease.

Understanding Melanoma

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in young adults (ages 25 – 29) and one of the more dangerous types of skin cancer. According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, more than 76,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed throughout 2016, and an estimated 10,000 Americans will likely die from the disease. What’s even more alarming is that while the prevalence of many cancers has declined in recent years, melanoma rates have been increasing for the past three decades.

However, the good news is that melanoma can be treated, and quite successfully, if it’s caught early. Because new skin spots and growths are part of the natural aging process, it can be difficult to tell when it’s more serious than just a freckle.

“We know that 90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun,” said Steven Queen, MD at Harris Medical Associates, a Duke Lifepoint physician practice. “Essentially, we all have some level of risk, which is why we encourage all of our patients to be diligent about applying sunscreen, performing monthly skin checks and taking other precautions to protect their skin year-round.”

Spotting Melanoma

One of the best ways people can spot melanoma early is to perform regular self-exams. Self-exams are best performed by scanning the entire body for any new or changing skin growths in a well-lit room. For hard to see areas, use a handheld mirror, or ask a friend or family member to help. To make sure changes are recognized in a timely manner, Dr. Queen recommends performing these skin checks monthly. 

      

To conduct a proper skin check, Dr. Queen recommends using the ABCDE rule, a simple guide for determining if a growth may be cancerous. If the skin shows any of the following signs, schedule an appointment with a primary care doctor for further assessment:

A is for Asymmetry – If the mole or freckle is cut in half, vertically or horizontally, and it does not match

B is for Border – If the mole or freckle has irregular, ragged, notched or blurred borders

C is for Color – If the color of the mole or freckle is inconsistent and contains shades of brown and black, or patches of pink, red, white or blue

D is for Diameter – If the mole or freckle is larger than six (6) millimeters, about the size of a pencil eraser

E is for Evolving – If any mole or freckle changes size, shape or color

Other potential warning signs of melanoma include:

  • A sore that does not heal;
  • The spread of pigment from the border of a spot into surrounding skin;
  • Redness or new swelling beyond the border of the freckle or mole;
  • A change in sensation – itchiness, tenderness or pain; or
  • Changes to the surface of a mole, such as scaliness, oozing, bleeding or the appearance of a bump or nodule.

While these are good general rules of thumb, some melanomas do not fall into any of the above categories. For any changes to existing moles or freckles or new growths that do not resemble other existing skin spots, it is best to be proactive and talk to a doctor. For those who do not have a primary care physician, Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital have a physician finder located on their websites, www.myharrisregional.com and www.myswaincommunity.com or call the Physician Referral Line at 844-414-DOCS (3627)

Preventing Melanoma

While melanoma is an aggressive and dangerous form of cancer, it is also largely preventable. Individuals who spend a lot of time outdoors can minimize their risk by practicing the following healthy sun habits:

  • Apply sunscreen daily;
  • Protect skin with clothing, a hat, sunglasses, etc.;
  • Seek shade while outdoors;
  • Schedule outdoor activities before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. to avoid the sun’s most intense hours; and
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours, when outdoors.

“We encourage people to be smart about sun exposure. Simple steps like applying sunscreen, wearing a hat and seeking shade while outdoors can significantly lower your risk of developing skin cancer,” said Dr. Queen. “For those who spend a lot of time in the sun, regularly monitoring the skin is absolutely critical and potentially life-saving.”