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Skin Care and Diseases

Melanoma

The arrival of summer means sunny days and the prospect of long days on the golf course, tennis court and swimming pool. Enjoy these sunny days, but enjoy them safely, because those sunny rays contain a hidden and deadly danger: ultraviolet radiation.

Ultraviolet radiation is the single most preventable cause of melanoma, a deadly skin cancer that kills 20 people in the U.S. every day. Melanoma will be diagnosed in 1 of 70 people during their lives.

There are two basic ways to fight melanoma. First, avoid excessive sun exposure. Second, be alert to changes in your skin that might signal the beginning stages of the disease. The earlier melanoma is detected, the better chance the patient has of beating this insidious disease.

Let's look some more at the first method - avoiding excessive sun exposure.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It is a cancer of the pigment producing cells (melanocytes) in the skin. It is these pigment cells that give us our differing shades of skin color. Ultraviolet light damages these pigment cells, leading to sunburn, sun-induced tissue damage and skin cancers, including melanoma. And the more light skinned you are, the more you are at risk

The sun's rays and ultraviolet light can reap an ugly toll in addition to causing cancer. Over time, ultraviolet light causes wrinkles and rough leathery skin. Remember, cow hides are "tanned" to make leather too.

Here's what you can do to avoid excessive sun exposure.

Visit NetWellness' skin care topic area for more information.

Not all melanoma is caused by sun damage. Unfortunately, there are some rarer forms of melanoma -- for example, on the palms or soles, under toes or fingernails, or in the back of the eyes or mucous membranes -- which people of all skin complexions are susceptible to.

The second weapon in the battle against melanoma is a simple awareness of danger. For instance, if you have had a previous melanoma or someone in your family has had one, you are at increased risk. If you have many moles or large birthmarks, you may also be at increased risk as well.

What can you do? Examine your skin and your family members' skin. Bring to your family doctor's or dermatologist's attention any changing or suspicious mole or skin area. Follow the ABCD rule. Any mole which is Asymmetric, has an irregular Border, Color variation or has a Diameter larger than a pencil eraser should be evaluated

If you are diagnosed with melanoma, see a specialist. Surgical Oncologists - cancer surgeons - are most familiar with the latest diagnostic and treatment advances in melanoma. The majority of patients diagnosed with melanoma can be cured with early detection and appropriate treatment.

Bright, sunny summer days are wonderful in many ways. Enjoy them with your friends and family. But enjoy them sensibly and take precautions against the sun's dangers.

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Last Reviewed: Aug 19, 2003

Jeffrey L Susman, MD Jeffrey L Susman, MD
Associate Professor and Chief of Surgical Oncology
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati