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Melanoma - The Latest News for Prevention and Early Detection


May is Melanoma Awareness Month.


Melanoma is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in the United States and the deadliest form of skin cancer. Rates of melanoma are rising rapidly, especially in younger people. In fact, cases of melanoma have tripled in the last 30 years, at a time when cancer rates for other common cancers have declined.

An estimated 87,110 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017.

To help bring more awareness to melanoma prevention and detection, two new studies have recently been released.

Detecting High Risk Skin Cancer

Men over the age of 50 have a higher risk than the general population of developing melanoma. However, it is their women partners who are more likely to notice suspicious skin spots, notes the American Academy of Dermatology.

New research has shown that women are nine times more likely than men to notice melanoma on others. Men assisted by women during skin exams are less likely to miss skin lesions than the other way around. (Women, by the way, are also more likely to examine their own skin more regularly than men.)

The message here is let’s help each other out by noticing skin changes especially on areas that are hard to see on your own and potentially save more lives. When caught early, melanoma is highly curable says the Melanoma Research Alliance. Unfortunately, however, even though treatments improve every day, survival rates for late stage melanoma are still low.

Need help with conducting skin exams? The AAD has a new video called “Check Him Out” found on YouTube.

Screening for Skin Cancer (Prevention)
There are many health screens we should accomplish based upon our age and gender. These include mammograms (Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year) and colonoscopies (for everyone beginning at age 50). But should there also be a national guidelines for skin cancer screenings?

So far, the answer is no – based on research by an independent panel for the US Preventive Services Task Force. They find that there is not enough evidence to recommend routine full body skin examinations for adult patients. However, if you are someone at high risk for skin cancer, perhaps you should take matters into your own hands.

Factors that may increase your risk of melanoma include:
• Fair skin. Having less pigment (melanin) in your skin means you have less protection from damaging UV radiation. If you have blond or red hair, light-colored eyes, and freckle or sunburn easily, you're more likely to develop melanoma than is someone with a darker complexion. But melanoma can develop in people with darker complexions, including Hispanics and blacks.

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• A history of sunburn. One or more severe, blistering sunburns can increase your risk of melanoma.

• Excessive ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. Exposure to UV radiation, which comes from the sun and from tanning lights and beds, can increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.

• Living closer to the equator or at a higher elevation. People living closer to the earth's equator, where the sun's rays are more direct, experience higher amounts of UV radiation than do those living in higher latitudes. In addition, if you live at a high elevation, you're exposed to more UV radiation.

• Having many moles or unusual moles. Having more than 50 ordinary moles on your body indicates an increased risk of melanoma. Also, having an unusual type of mole increases the risk of melanoma. Known medically as dysplastic nevi, these tend to be larger than normal moles and have irregular borders and a mixture of colors.

• A family history of melanoma. If a close relative — such as a parent, child or sibling — has had melanoma, you have a greater chance of developing a melanoma, too.

• Weakened immune system. People with weakened immune systems, such as those who've undergone organ transplants, have an increased risk of skin cancer.

If you are at risk, it is wise to pencil in monthly self skin examinations on your calendar. Look for:
A – Asymmetrical Growths
B – Border that is Irregular
C – Color Changes
D – Diameter larger than the size of a pencil eraser
E – Evolving size or thickness

References and Resources:
American Academy of Dermatology. "Female partners can help facilitate early melanoma detection in men over 50, research shows." ScienceDaily, 27 April 2017.

Mariah M Johnson, Michael K Wong et al. Skin cancer screening: recommendations for data-driven screening guidelines and a review of the US Preventive Services Task Force controversy. Melanoma Management, 2017; 4 (1): 13 DOI: 10.2217/mmt-2016-0022

Melanoma Research Alliance

Mayo Clinic

Photo Credit:
By Ekimap via Wikimedia Commons