What is melanoma?

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and while it is the least common it is estimated that melanoma will affect 1 in 27 men and 1 in 40 women in their lifetime (Siegel RL, Miller KD, Jemal A. Cancer statistics, 2019. CA Cancer J Clin. 2019; doi: 10.3322/caac.21551).

There are many factors contributing to melanoma, including high altitude, fair skin, significant sun exposure, tanning beds and genetics. Melanoma masses are commonly associated with moles, as they resemble a mole or may even arise from an existing mole. They are generally dark brown or black in color, though occasionally may be white, pink, or even blue or purple.

When to See a Doctor

You should see your doctor if you notice an irritated or unnatural-looking skin growth. You should also make an appointment to show your doctor any skin growths that concern you so that they can be observed and treated.

If you have a family history of skin cancer, or any risk factors that are common to skin cancer, you should also think about having your doctor perform a yearly skin check as part of your routine physical. This is where your doctor will check your skin for new growths, and also observe existing growths, such as moles or freckles, to make sure they are not changing.

Prevention

You can take an active role in protecting your skin and preventing skin cancer. First, when possible try to stay in the shade during peak sun hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. When you are in the sun, reapply sunscreen regularly throughout the day, especially if you will be in water where it can wash off.

In some cases, you may want to wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, and protective accessories like hats and sunglasses to block UVA and UVB rays.

Also, avoid indoor tanning as it can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.