This week, we will continue our discussion about melanoma, which is the most serious form of skin cancer. Let’s talk about some things you can do to decrease your risk of developing this type of cancer.
What can you do to reduce your risk of developing melanoma (and other types of skin cancer)?
Here are some things that you should do for yourself and your children to protect skin and reduce the risk of melanoma.
- Avoid the sun during the middle of the day (10 am to 2 pm), when the sun’s rays are strongest. Schedule your outdoor activities for other times of the day, even in winter and on cloudy days.
- Wear sunscreen throughout the year. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF. Even on cloudy days, use sunscreen generously and reapply every 2 hours (more if you get in the water or are sweating). Don’t forget to put sunscreen on your ears and on the part in your hair. Talk with your pediatrician before using sunscreen on an infant less than 6 months old.
- Wear protective clothing when exposed to the sun, even if you have on sunscreen. Wear a hat with a broad brim to help protect your scalp, ears, and neck. Wear clothing that covers your shoulders, arms, and legs. You can even buy special SPF clothing that protects from the sun while also keeping you cool. Use a good sun umbrella at the beach.
- Don’t forget the sunglasses with UV protection.
- Avoid tanning beds and tanning lamps!
- Become familiar with your skin. Check your skin regularly for new spots, spots that are different from others on your skin, or changes in moles, freckles, or birth marks. Here is a link that explains how to perform a skin self-exam: Detect skin cancer: How to perform a skin self-exam (aad.org)
- If you are at high risk for melanoma, maybe due to family history, prior skin cancer, or a combination of factors, you should consider having a full skin exam by a dermatologist once every year or two.
What should you do if you see a spot on your skin that concerns you?
You can play a big part in the diagnosis of melanoma by using the ABCDEs that I outlined last time.
I’m going to give you the link again to help you spot a melanoma using the ABCDEs.
If you find what you think is a suspicious spot, you should see your doctor.
How is a diagnosis of melanoma made?
Your doctor will ask questions to understand your risk factors and will do a good examination of your skin, particularly of the spot in question. Your doctor can often recognize some benign skin lesions right away and may reassure you that the spot is benign.
If your doctor is suspicious of the spot, a biopsy will be the next step. The type of biopsy done can depend on your situation but it is usually a simple procedure that can be done in the office. The biopsy tissue will be sent to the pathologist for careful examination under a microscope.
If the pathology does show that the spot is melanoma, you will be referred to a specialist for further evaluation to determine if the melanoma has spread to any other areas, as well as surgical removal of the melanoma and surrounding tissue.
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us your question. We are here to help.
Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor