Melanoma skin cancer is a less common, but very serious type of skin cancer. It occurs when melanocytes, or cells that produce melanin, begin to grow out of control.
One of the most common causes for melanoma skin cancer is thought to be UV radiation, which damages the melanocytes in your skin. UV radiation harms the cells by altering their DNA. The sun, black-lights, and tanning beds are all sources of UV radiation we encounter.
The main types of melanoma skin cancer are as follows:
- Superficial spreading
- Lentigo maligna
- Acral lentiginou
Early Diagnosis and Melanoma
While melanoma is less prevalent than other cancer types, it is extremely dangerous. Especially if not caught early because it spreads quickly. If it isn’t detected in its early stages, the cancer can become metastatic, which means it can spread to other areas of your body. Of all cancer types, melanoma is one of the most likely to become metastatic.
Skin Cancer Risk Factors
While having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean you will develop skin cancer, it’s important to be aware of the following factors that may increase your chances of melanoma. Melanoma risk factors include:
Skin type: People with fair skin are more likely to develop cancer than other skin types. You have less pigmentation when you have lighter skin. Less pigmentation, or melanin, means less protection from UV rays.
Family history of skin cancer: It’s possible to have a genetic predisposition for melanoma skin cancer. If one of your family members has had skin cancer, you’re at a higher risk for developing it too.
Geographic location: If you live close to the equator, you’re getting more direct sunlight. This can be damaging to your skin.
Sunburns: Sunburns increase your risk of skin cancer. This is especially true if you have had severe sun burns, where your skin peels or blisters.
Excessive moles: Having more than 50 moles on your body significantly increases your risk of developing melanoma.
Prevention of Melanoma Skin Cancer
No matter your risk level, it’s important to be proactive about combatting melanoma. Practicing the following can help decrease your risk of developing skin cancer:
Routine checkups: Make sure to see your dermatologist to ensure your skin is healthy. A dermatologist has received specialized training in skin care and will be able to identify any abnormal skin changes. Identifying these changes as soon as they begin to develop can improve cancer outcomes.
Sunscreen: Sunscreen is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your skin. Most dermatologist recommend individuals use sunscreens with SPF 30 and above, for the best protection. Sunblock helps reduce the harmful impact of UV rays on your skin.
Protective clothing: Covering up with clothing can help block the sun from your skin. Clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor, or UPF, are recommended over traditional cotton fibers. A UPF rating of between 40 and 50 is recommended. A UPF rating of 40 means that just 1 ray out of 40 ends up touching your skin.
Self-screening: Perform regular self-screening to identify any skin abnormalities as soon as possible. Self-screens are best done in the shower or bath, where you can visualize all your body. You’ll want to check for any moles, changes in existing moles, and any sores that aren’t healing well. All of these things can be signs of skin cancer.