Skin Deep – Preventing and Treating Melanoma

woman with skin cancerFor many of us, a summer tan is like a gold medal—something we work the whole season to achieve, and, when we get it, we proudly show it off.

Unfortunately, with a great tan comes great responsibility.

Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure from the sun—or, dare we say, the dreaded indoor tanning bed—is a major risk factor for skin cancers, including the deadliest of all: melanoma. The more exposure to UV rays a person receives, the more at risk he or she is to melanoma—particularly if that individual is also naturally fair-skinned or freckled.

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2013 alone, nearly 77,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma. While rates increase with age, melanoma is one of the most common cancers in young adults—particularly women.

The first line of defense is, of course, the liberal use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen. But, for some, the added risk factors of age, gender or family or personal history put them at greater risk.

Luckily, that’s where the Regional Cancer Center at Memorial Medical Center comes in.

According to a recent quality study performed by the cancer center, survival rates for melanoma patients treated at Memorial Medical Center are higher than the national average. The study’s findings indicate this is largely due to early diagnosis—with more than 60 percent of cases diagnosed at Stage 0 or 1.

The Regional Cancer Center adheres to national guidelines for surgical management of these cancers—Memorial’s plastic surgeons routinely perform melanoma excisions—meaning they remove the layers of skin with cancer after a positive biopsy. The survival rates at MMC for early-stage melanoma is nearly 98 percent—compared to a national average of just over 90 percent.

Early detection is often the difference between life and death—that’s why it’s as important self-examine your skin at least once a month as it is to wear sunscreen.

According to the American Cancer Society, here’s what to look for:

  • Changes in moles
  • New spots on the skin
  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • Redness or swelling around the perimeter of a mole
  • Change in sensation  or surface on moles—like oozing, bleeding or bumps
  • Change in sensation  or surface on moles—like oozing, bleeding or bumps

If you spot any of these signs, or if you have any concerns, contact your physician.