26 May MELANOMA AWARENESS MONTH
By now you have probably heard the alarming statistics about Melanoma and how this deadly form of skin cancer is predicted to take the lives of nearly 7000 people this year, in the US alone and over 100,000 new cases will be reported. We at Lexington Dermatology and Laser Center, want our patients to know that there are ways to lower our risks of melanoma and that early detection can be life-saving in this form of skin cancer.
First, basic common sense sun protective measures, both with outdoor sunlight exposure and the avoidance of indoor tanning. Start by scheduling outdoor activities such as gardening or walking outside, before 10 am or after 3 pm. Next find a sunscreen of at least an SPF of 30 or more. It is important to find a sunscreen that you like and will use. If it sits on the shelf because you do not like the smell or it stings when you apply it, it will do no good. Then be sure to use it every day, applying to sun exposed areas like the face, neck, hands, and arms depending on how you are dressed for the day. Make it part of your daily routing, like brushing your teeth or combing your hair. Those sunscreens with Titanium dioxide and Zinc Oxide tend to be less irritating and they offer considerable broad spectrum protection. If you have to be outside for more than an hour or two, it should also reapplied especially if you are perspiring or going in and out of water. Consider wearing a hat and other protective clothing such as a rash guard if you anticipate extended sun exposure. In terms of supplements, studies have shown some added sun protection benefit from the use of Polypodium Leucotomos, otherwise known as Heliocare, when taken by mouth. There is also some data showing reduction in overall skin cancer risks with the supplement Niacinamide, which is the non-flushing variety of Niacin.
The other important concept is early detection. We know that those Melanomas caught in the early stages have a 99% five year survival rate once treated so the key is to catch them early and remove them before they spread to the lymph nodes and other areas of the body. Therefore, it is important to monitor your skin and look out for any changing, growing or new lesions. Melanomas can occur in moles that change or they can appear in an area of previously normal appearing skin. They often have pigment which can be brown, black, grey, pink or even white and they may even have multiple colors within a single lesion. The border is sometimes jagged or irregular and the lesion may look lopsided in terms of it’s overall symmetry. On occasion they can appear as a jet black flat spot or nodule with an irregular shape and there are rare varieties without much pigment at all. Given that is it is hard to see all the areas yourself, we recommend a yearly skin exam to examine areas like the scalp and back where it is difficult to see. We also recommend that our patients call if a lesion is changing, growing, ulcerating, or new. Remember, early detection can mean the difference between life and death so getting things checked out early is important.