CHANGE: The Most Important Melanoma Warning Sign

The appearance of melanomas can vary widely from one to another. They develop in many difference colors, sizes and other unique visual characteristics. For this reason, trying to discern whether a mole is cancerous just by looking at it isn’t a reliable method. Even dermatologists can’t always tell the difference based solely on appearance.

However, there is one distinctive warning sign that (nearly) always identifies a melanoma: change. it’s the most important reason why performing a regular monthly skin self-examination is so vital. It’s just as significant to check any pre-existing skin growths for change as it is to look for new ones.

What to Look for

This is a list of skin growth changes to help learn what it is you should be looking for:

– An increase in its diameter or elevation

– A change in its shape; especially if that shape has become irregular

– A change in its color or shade

-Persistent itching

– Any change in its surface, including:

  • Texture
  • How it feels to your touch
  • How it reacts to light (reflects)
  • Development of one or more bumps- even if they’re small
  • An ulceration (liquid-like appearance, such as found in an open sore)
  • Bleeding spontaneously or upon minor trauma

Any of these changes that continue for 3 weeks or longer need to be checked out. Though any bleeding or ulcerations should be brought to the immediate attention of a dermatologist.

Please note that this list is a helpful guide, but it’s not all-inclusive. Any changes to skin growths that are not found here should not be ignored.

We recently published a blog post that highlighted the differences between the two primary forms of melanoma, Radial and Nodular. As it’s relevant to this one, we’ll re-post it. To read it, please click HERE.

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

A Melanoma Menu

There is a lot to learn about melanoma. On the surface, it’s a fairly-straightforward subject; yet it’s also one that carries with it many important subtopics. This piece consists of selections from our previously published posts on the subject.

To view the original Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) article on any of the topics below, simply click the link and you’ll be brought directly to it.

From Bad to Worse

About Radial and Nodular Melanoma, the two primary forms of the worst skin cancer.

A Bad Match: Keeping Moles Away from the Sun

The reasons why exposing moles to sunlight is a very bad idea.

Ginger Ail

A discussion on the increased risk of melanoma to redheads.

Connecting the Dots

For those with many moles, there is a tool that dermatologists can use to help keep tabs on patients’ skin health.

Which is Which?

How to tell the difference between freckles and moles

Normal and Abnormal Moles

Differentiating between normal and atypical moles.

Your Chances of Developing Melanoma

A discussion of melanoma risk factors.

Checking Up on Yourself

How to examine yourself for early signs of melanoma.

Skin Cancer: Not Child’s Play

The differences and similarities between childhood melanoma and melanoma in adults.

Melanoma: A Color-Blind Cancer

Information on Acral Lentiginous Melanoma, which is more common in blacks, Hispanics and Asians than it is in whites.

Stage 0 Melanoma

The best form of the worst skin cancer.

The Eyes Have It

Ocular Melanoma is a rare, deadly cancer that is not caused by UV (ultraviolet) ray exposure.

Can You Identify the Bad Guys?

A quick visual quiz that tests your ability to tell benign moles from those that are cancerous.

Action, Not Fear

What to do if a suspicious growth is found during a skin self-examination.

Survey Says?!

The excellent results from teachers who were surveyed regarding the effectiveness of the Melanoma Education Foundation’s (MEF) classroom melanoma lessons.

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Intermittent Sun Exposure and Melanoma Risk

Our efforts to increase melanoma education often include clearing up various misconceptions about the disease. Those who’ve never been taught much about skin cancer tend to make incorrect assumptions about it.

One of these beliefs is that melanoma incidence is highest in southern states, and among people who consistently spend time out in the sun. While it is true that skin cancer impacts both, it’s not the whole truth.

The sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays can be just as dangerous, if not even more so, to northern U.S. residents as they are to those who live in the south. And with reason.

There is a scientific hypothesis that those who inhabitant northern and central states are more prone to developing melanoma than people living in sunbelt states, due to intermittent sun exposure.

Scientists believe that the populations of sunbelt states can become more acclimated to UV rays because their skin is more likely to be exposed to them year-round. Non-medically, it’s similar to the way an auto mechanic at some point builds up a tolerance to the smell of gasoline.

Some examples of intermittent (sporadic, occasional) sun exposure include:

  • Spending much of the winter months indoors, then exposing skin to strong sunlight during the summer months
  • Spending the entire workweek indoors, and then full weekends outdoors
  • Northern and U.S. state residents vacationing in tropical or semitropical locations like Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean, or other areas where UV rays are particularly intense

Statistics show that when all ethnic groups are considered only one sunbelt state, Georgia, ranks within the Top 10 states for melanoma occurrences. And when only non-Hispanic Caucasians are included, only two states make that Top 10 list: Georgia again, and Hawaii.

This chart shows the Top 10 melanoma state rankings:

 

 

 

 

 

Source: https://nccd.cdc.gov/uscs/cancersrankedbystate.aspx

The skin cancers that are less serious than melanoma (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) are more prevalent in sunbelt states.

It’s important to note that this information doesn’t mean that southerners shouldn’t continue to take sun-safety precautions; they certainly should. It means that northerners should remind themselves that the cold is no shelter from melanoma.

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Moles and Sun: A Dangerous Combination

Benign moles (or nevi) are so common that pretty much every human being on earth has them. In the language of medicine, “benign” means noncancerous. However, exposure to dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays from our sun can create mutations on moles that cause nevi to turn from safely benign, to dangerously malignant (cancerous). UV rays even often promote a common mole’s formation to begin with.

In a report cited within an article posted by the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, researchers in California have discovered a way to determine the direction moles take as they transform from skin lesions (“precursors”) to reaching their fully malignant, potentially fatal, forms.

This easy to remember chart shows the progression to melanoma upon UV exposure:

Normal mole (1 mutation) —-> Atypical mole (several mutations) ——> Melanoma (many mutations).

It was the data gathered by this group of scientists that confirmed the negative impact UV rays have on skin by initiating the growth of moles, as well as turning them cancerous. It also confirmed the existence of “intermediate lesions”, which are lesions whose benign or malignant status is not easily determined. The latter discovery will be greatly beneficial to dermatologists when choosing the treatment for their melanoma patients.

So, what does all of this mean to those of us who are non-medical laypersons? That has been neatly summarized by the words of Dr. Boris Bastian; the report’s senior author:

“A lot of melanomas have been sequenced at this point, and while it’s clear they carry UV-induced mutations, no one knew when they occurred…This study shows that they occur in benign moles, in the melanoma that arises from these moles, and in intermediate lesions. UV both initiates and causes the progression of melanoma, so exposing even benign moles to the sun is dangerous.”

Just because a mole is benign doesn’t mean it will stay that way. It’s very important to always take the appropriate skin protection precautions whenever we’re exposed to the sun.

*Additional information sources: University of California San Francisco, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Indirectly Speaking: The Impact of Secondary UV Exposure

Even among those who make a concerted effort to practice sun-safety, there remains a tendency to forget about the impact that secondary, or indirect, sun exposure has on our skin.

If there’s a choice to stand in the sun or in the shade, certainly the latter is preferred. But shade alone isn’t nearly enough to keep us adequately protected from harmful UV rays. Also, the amount of protection shade provides can vary substantially based upon factors such as the object(s) providing it, your location, time of day and the environment around you.

The singular point to remember most is that it’s still very possible for us to incur significant sun skin damage- even while fully in the shade.

There are multiple scenarios within which we may not realize the actual amount of UV rays to which we’re being subjected.

With that in mind, we would like to focus on three important types of indirect sun exposure; Reflected, Scattered and Diffuse.

Reflected

Reflected is pretty much just what it sounds like. UV rays reflect off many things such as sand, snow, concrete, water, asphalt, ice and light surfaces; among others. So even if you’re sitting or standing under an umbrella (or parasol), or a tree(s), et cetera, your skin is still absorbing the rays being reflected onto it.

Scattered

UVB rays emanate from our sun, and then once they’re within our atmosphere they can be “scattered” throughout the sky at a higher volume than we realize. If you are outside in a shaded area but can see blue sky, you are receiving scattered UV radiation.

Diffuse

Many people have the misconception that if it’s cloudy, hazy or overcast outside, they have a natural protection from sun exposure. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. And thinking that it is can lead to severe skin damage. The truth is that hazy sunlight may expose your skin to even more UV radiation than sunlight on a clear day.

Myth-cellaneous

Within this article we’ve shed some light (no pun intended) on a few of the biggest myths that people believe about skin damage; such as that you cannot get sunburned in the shade or in the haze.

However, to highlight those points, here are four pictures of common scenes at which one would be impacted by indirect sun exposure when you are in shade:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please keep in mind that even if we’re unaware, the sun’s harmful rays will always be there. 

*Additional information sources: Sunsaferx.com, Abc.net.au, Skincancer.org

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Mole Mapping

If you have high skin cancer risk factors, or those who have over 50 moles, or too many moles to easily track yourself, mole mapping is a useful tool. Even better, the procedure is non-invasive and completely painless.

How Does Mole Mapping Work?

A dermatologist will take pictures and images of his or her patients that encompass the outer layer of skin. Once completed the records are archived. They’re then used later to check against future images and monitor any newly-developed moles; along with any changes to pre-existing ones.

This photograph depicts a patient undergoing mole mapping with her dermatologist:

It’s Not a Catchall

Research into mole mapping has revealed that it does increase the chances that dermatologists will discover early melanomas. (In one study, the odds increased by 17%).*

However, mole mapping should be used to augment, not replace, a person’s skin health care behaviors; as it has its limits. For instance, melanoma can develop on the scalp, which for most people is covered with hair that the cameras can’t see through. It can still miss cancerous moles, and there is always the possibility that a melanoma will develop and spread quickly during the time-gap between office visits.

For those reasons, it’s also important to perform monthly skin self-examinations, so any oddities can be brought swiftly to the attention of a dermatologist.

Working in tandem, skin self-exams and mole mapping will provide an even greater chance of catching and stopping a melanoma before it’s too late.

How do I Locate Dermatologists Who Provide Mole Mapping?

If you or someone you know is interested in mole mapping and would like to find local offices that perform it, start by running an internet search for “mole mapping services, ZZ”. When you do, simply replace the “ZZ” with your state’s postal abbreviation. (For example, Wyoming = WY, Minnesota = MN, etc.)

*Additional information sources: News-medical.net/health/Mole-Mapping.aspx (Catherine Shaffer, M.Sc.)

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

SPF: Fact versus Fiction

Each day, more people learn about the importance of wearing sunscreen whenever they’re outdoors to shield themselves against the sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays. While that news is heartening, getting that information out is only half of the battle.

If a user misunderstands how a sunscreen’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF) works, or if the product is incorrectly applied, the level of protection received can be considerably lower than he or she believes it to be. That can be very dangerous.

Here’s why:

If your mouthwash contained a lesser percentage of cinnamon flavor than you thought it did, it would make absolutely no difference as far as your health is concerned. However, if you walked around every day thinking you were wearing a sunscreen that provided more skin defense than it actually did, that mistaken notion could end up resulting in skin cancer. Or, even worse, the potentially deadly melanoma.

Don’t Get Burned, Either Literally or Figuratively

We’d like to help clear up this confusion. There is a view held by many that, because an SPF 50 sunscreen absorbs 98% of UVB radiation while an SPF 100 sunscreen absorbs 99%, just 1% more, the SPF 100 sunscreen offers hardly any advantage over the SPF 50 sunscreen. That’s a misinterpretation of the facts.

If an SPF 100 sunscreen is correctly applied and continually re-applied every two hours at a minimum, (or immediately after swimming or profuse sweating) it’ll provide adequate skin protection for double the amount of time that a SPF 50 sunscreen will.

But Wait, There’s More!

There are other ways that we inadvertently end up leaving ourselves vulnerable to those dangerous UV rays. We’ll go over a few here.

It’s the rare person who applies an amount of sunscreen sufficient enough to reach the SPF level touted by the product. And, whether they do or not, most don’t re-apply it as needed- if they even re-apply it at all.

Every time you use sunscreen, the goal should be to cover every sun-exposed inch of skin. If you’re in a swimsuit, the necessary quantity is enough to fill a shot glass. In fact, instead of guessing, consider simply using an actual shot glass.

Unfortunately, independent studies have shown that an alarming number of sunscreen brands don’t meet the SPF ratings that their packages trumpet. It’s important to do a little online research on your favorite brand to see if the claimed SPF is accurate.

Finally, it bears repeating. You’ve probably heard that famous real estate slogan, it’s all about location, location, location! With sunscreen, think re-application, re-application, re-application! If you’re going to be spending time outdoors, re-application is as important as applying sunscreen is to begin with.

*Additional source: Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) Fall 2016 Newsletter

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Melanoma Risk Factors

There’s no question that a primary trigger in developing skin cancer (and its most lethal form, melanoma) is unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, there are some factors that can increase our susceptibility. Some of them are within our control, and, unfortunately, some of them are not.

Regardless, it’s still vital to be aware of both, as knowing these risks are there will make us more likely to pay closer attention to our skin. Catching melanoma early enough can easily mean the difference between life and death.

There’s a famous old saying that applies so well to skin cancer, its’ author could very well be referring specifically to it: Knowledge is power.

We’re here to provide some of that knowledge today, with the hope that you’ll help us spread it far and wide.

What Can’t I Control Regarding Melanoma?

Right up front, we’d like to clarify a popular misconception that skin cancer is strictly a Caucasian disease. Believing that incorrect notion can turn out to be a huge mistake. Any human being of any ethnicity can develop melanoma.

With that said, melanoma does play favorites. Whites have the greatest risk at about 1 in 44. In descending order, they’re followed by Hispanics (1 in 250), Native Americans (1 in 350) Asians (1 in 800) and Blacks (1 in 1,100).

The following uncontrollable risk factors for melanoma are grouped together based on their amount of risk:

Characteristics that increase melanoma risk by a factor of 2-4:

  • One atypical mole
  • 50 or more normal moles
  • Heavily freckled with no atypical moles
  • Green or blue eyes, blond or red hair
  • Parkinson’s Disease

(Click HERE for more information on atypical versus normal moles)

Characteristics that increase risk by a factor of 9 or more:

  • 10 or more atypical moles
  • Personal history of melanoma
  • If two or more immediate family members have had melanoma, or if you are heavily freckled and one immediate family member has had melanoma, you have a 100% chance of getting it
  • Specific skin diseases, including Lupus and Xeroderma Pigmentosum, carry a high but undefined risk
  • Photosensitizing medication or treatment increases the risk, but the degree has yet to been determined

What Can I Control Regarding Melanoma?

Depending on your current age, some of these points may have already passed you by. If at one time any of them applied to you, it’s important to keep an extra-sharp eye out when doing your monthly skin self-examinations. Those who are in the two highest risk categories should have a dermatologist examine them every six months at minimum. Due to their skin-specific medical training, dermatologists are more adept at diagnosing skin cancer than general practitioners are:

  • Unprotected intermittent skin exposure to sunlight during any season of the year, in any climate
  • A single blistering sunburn under age 20 doubles the risk; 3 or more increase it 5 times
  • One use of a tanning bed under age 35 ups the odds nearly 1¼ times, while 10 or more uses under age 30 elevates the risk nearly 8 times

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Freckles versus Moles

The name of this week’s skin cancer blog post may sound a bit like the title of a Grade B movie.  However, it’s actually a reference to a common confusion between the two titled skin conditions that we very often come across. Hopefully, this piece will help to alleviate any confusion.

Freckle Facts

To help illustrate the differences, we’re going to provide some of the most useful information to have regarding freckles and flat moles. We’ll begin with the most important fact. Unlike flat moles, true freckles lack any cellular structure, which makes it impossible for any of them to turn cancerous. So if that’s ever in any way been a worry to either you or someone you know, you can put it out of your mind.

 With that said, here are some answers to a few more freckle FAQ’s. A mole can be flat, raised or partially-raised. They’re often secluded on our skin, and when not they’re part of an irregular grouping of other moles. By contrast freckles, which are simply clusters of melanin (our natural skin pigment), are without exception always flat.

Unlike some moles, freckles are never present at birth. They present later, after sun-exposure, to people who are predisposed to getting them. Moles are usually darker than freckles, with the latter susceptible to lightening in the winter and darkening during the summer months. To literally illustrate the difference, here are photos of both. The left picture depicts flat moles, and the right one, freckles: 

 

 

 

 

 

We’d kindly ask you to keep one thing in mind. While freckles by themselves are totally harmless, having them usually means having a light complexion and/or sun-damaged skin. As such, extra care should be taken in the form of monthly self-examination of your skin, and meticulous sunscreen use whenever you’re outdoors.

*Additional source: Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) Newsletter (Spring 2013)

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Redheads and Melanoma

It’s very important for all of us to remember that UV rays, from minor sun skin damage all the way up to the potentially fatal melanoma, can impact any human being regardless of his or her race. However, due to the nature of melanoma, there are some groups of people who are more susceptible to this awful disease than others are. This blog post will focus on one of those groups.

Redheads at Risk

While melanoma is certainly an equal opportunity menace, it can and does play favorites. Unfortunately, people who have natural red hair are one group of them.

The odds that a redheaded individual will contract melanoma is far greater than it is for people without pale skin tones, or who have darker-complexions. The reason for this may be the varying levels of two distinct types of melanin pigment present within each group.

At issue is that the amount of red pheomelanin within redheads far exceeds the amount of black eumelanin they possess. The latter is “photoprotective” and “tends to absorb UV radiation and provides minor protection of the skin from UV damage”, while the former is “phototoxic”, and “when it absorbs UV radiation it releases cancer-promoting substances known to cause DNA mutationsthe release of these cancer-promoting molecules was found to continue for two to three hours after UV exposure had stopped.*

Preventing Ginger Ail

What all the medical jargon boils down to is that redheads need to be particularly thorough when practicing their sun-safety techniques. Also, they must be extremely attentive during their monthly skin self-examinations. Any new odd-looking moles or blemishes, or any changes to existing ones, should be called to the attention of a dermatologist as quickly as is possible.

Finally, just because it’s so vital to reinforce this fact, we’d like to remind you that none of us is off the hook. Regular skin self-exams are crucial for everyone to perform; regardless of race, gender or skin tone.

It’s just that redheads need to be extra careful.

*Additional information source citation: Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) newsletter (Spring 2015)

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma