When the first few days of May bring about torrential downpours in the Seattle area, the thought of slathering on sunscreen to protect against skin cancer is likely far from one’s mind. And Melanoma Monday – a day set aside to bring awareness to this serious form of skin cancer – was probably a little outshined by Cinco de Mayo. Who wants to think about melanoma when there are margaritas and Mexican food to enjoy?
Luckily, May is Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month so you still have time to turn your attention from festive beverages and buying flowers for Mother’s Day to your skin.
It is estimated that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in the course of their lifetime, and one person dies from melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – every hour. Melanoma is the result of an abnormal growth of melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives color to the skin. Unlike more common skin cancers, such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma can spread to other organs, making treatment more challenging.
Like many other cancers, melanoma is potentially curable when caught at an early stage. This is why you should learn what to look for on your skin and when to see a doctor. To increase the chances of spotting skin cancer early, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone learn the ABCDE rule, which outlines the warning signs of melanoma:
- A is for Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half.
- B is for Border irregularity: The edges are ragged, notched or blurred.
- C is for Color that varies from one area to another.
- D is for Diameter: Melanomas are usually greater than the size of a pencil eraser (5 to 6 mm) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.
- E is for Evolving: A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.
Anything suspicious should be looked at by your doctor. Some people have a genetic mutation and family history that makes them highly susceptible to developing melanoma, and it requires lifelong surveillance.
For the rest of us, it’s all about prevention. And you probably already know the best way to prevent it. Yes, it’s wearing sunscreen. Yes, even when the only sun you’ve seen for a while was painted on the wall of your favorite Mexican restaurant. Yes, even when it is dark and rainy out. Your skin is exposed to the sun’s harmful UV rays every time you go outside, even on cloudy days and in the winter. Sunscreen is the most important tool in protecting against these rays that cause skin cancer, including melanoma.