The month of May is known for many reasons — with a significant one being celebrating your mother — but one important feature of the month is melanoma awareness, something that is hyper relevant in a hot and sunny state such as Texas.
May marks Melanoma Awareness Month, spreading awareness about the type of skin cancer that is most likely to grow and spread. Cancer.org provides helpful information about the disease, including risk factors, how to find it, symptoms and treatments.
The website reports for the United States in 2018, about 91,270 new melanomas will be diagnosed and about 9,320 people will likely to die from the disease. These rates of getting the cancer have been rising for the last three decades, with Caucasians 20 times more likely to get melanoma. The lifetime risk of getting melanoma is 2.6 percent for Caucasians, 0.1 percent for African Americans and 0.58 percent for Hispanics — though it is important to understand that all people can develop this disease.
The good news is there are clear risk factors to avoid in order to lessen your chances of developing melanoma. A major risk factor, according to the website, is ultraviolet rays exposure, with sunlight being the main source of UV rays. These harmful rays damage skin cell DNA, with cancer starting once the DNA of the genes that control skin cell growth are affected.
Much awareness is raised about paying attention to moles — particularly dark or irregular ones — and getting any worrisome skin spots check out by a professional. Though most moles will not cause problems, people with many moles have a higher risk of developing melanoma. Atypical moles, known as dysplastic nevi, are often larger and abnormally colored or shaped, appearing on skin that is exposed to the sun or routinely covered. Abnormal and possibly problematic moles can run in families.
Those who have light hair, fair skin and freckles are at a much higher risk for developing melanoma, including Caucasians with red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes and skin that easily burns or freckles. People with these physical characteristics should always use precautions when exposed to sunlight. Individuals with a family history of the disease are encouraged to visit their dermatologist for regular skin exams, examine their skin thoroughly monthly and be very cautious about sun protection, as well as avoiding artificial UV lights, which can be found in tanning booths.
Other factors that point to a higher risk of melanoma are having already had the disease, having a weakened immune system, being older, being a male and having a rare, inherited skin condition known as XP, xeroderma pigmentosum.
Luckily this type of cancer can often be found early, heightening the chances of being cured. Skin self-exams in front of full -length mirrors are highly recommended, and it is important to pay attention to your body and be aware of any irregularities. Skin exams can also be performed by doctors or health care professionals as a part of a routine check-up.
Treatment is performed by dermatologists, surgical oncologists, medical oncologists and/or radiation oncologists depending on options. Treatment decisions depend on overall heath, age, the state/extent of the cancer, the likelihood of treatment being curative or beneficial, and side effects.
Cancer.net places the survival rate of extremely early-stage melanoma at 99 percent for 5-year survival, though the rate drops to 63 percent once it has spread to nearby lymph nodes and 20 percent once it has spread to other parts of the body. Therefore, it is extremely important to follow precautions and protect yourself from UV rays — as well as perform routine check-ups — to lower your risk of developing this cancer.
Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know.