As families hit beach vacations, plan pool days, and play outside this summer, it’s important to stay educated on the dangers of sun exposure. May is Melanoma Awareness month, an annual event used to prevent skin cancer by sharing information. Whether you spend your time reading on the couch or playing in the pool, you could be at risk for melanoma.

What Is Melanoma?

Because most cases of melanoma occur in the skin, most people associate the disease with skin cancer; however, rare cases of melanoma can also develop in the eyes or mucous membranes. Melanoma is a mutation of the melanin found in the hair, eyes, and skin. It’s frequently found in moles, freckles, and skin damaged by UVA radiation. Family history, genetics, and environmental factors may increase a patient’s risk of developing melanoma. Cutaneous melanoma, the most common melanoma, is often visible on the skin, making it easy to detect before it progresses. Many melanoma cases are diagnosed by patients, not physicians, because patients are more likely to notice small changes in the moles or skin tissue they see every day. Regular visits to a dermatologist also increase the opportunity to diagnose melanoma in its earliest stages.

Symptoms of Melanoma

Check moles, freckles, and irregular spots for:

  • Asymmetry
  • Irregular or blurred borders
  • Changing colors
  • Size (have a dermatologist examine anything larger than a pencil eraser)
  • Changes in size, color, shape, or sensitivity

Protect Your Skin Against Melanoma

woman checking her skinPatients can decrease their risk of melanoma and increase the likelihood of early detection by following these steps:

  • Avoid tanning, especially exposure to UV radiation in tanning beds
  • Apply sunscreen every day, all year (even on overcast days)
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Practice healthy skin care habits
  • Know that sunburns, especially in children, significantly increase the chances of developing melanoma
  • Supplement Vitamin D levels through diet, not sun exposure
  • Know which medications may increase sensitivity to sunlight
  • Regularly check your skin for changes

Protect your kids, your spouse, and your own skin this summer. To learn more about early detection of melanoma, call Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

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