What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is cancer of the pigment cells in the skin called melanocytes. These cells become abnormal and grow into the surrounding tissue. Melanoma is often related to sun exposure and tends to run in families. One in 70 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year. If melanoma is left untreated, it can be fatal. For this reason, we take caution with suspicious lesions and treat melanomas quickly.
How is it treated?
Typically, surgically removing a large amount of tissue surrounding the melanoma is all that is needed.
What happens after treatment?
We will see you every three months for skin checks for the first two years. Then we will see you every six months until you reach five years. Thereafter, we will see you once a year. You should examine your skin every month at home and let us know if you see any changes. Your ophthalmologist needs to know you have melanoma so he or she can examine your eyes every year.
What about my family?
Melanoma tends to run in families, so all of your blood relatives need to know of your diagnosis. Anyone over age 20 should have yearly skin exams by a dermatology office.
- Wear a zinc sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every day. You are exposed to the sun’s rays simply driving in your car and walking by windows at home or work. The best sunscreens have a physical sun block such as zinc oxide. This ingredient will protect you from both UVA (aging rays) and UVB (burning rays) radiation.
- Avoid the sun between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. Try to stay under an umbrella or shade trees.
- Use waterproof sunscreen at the pool or beach. One adult should use 2 tablespoons of sunscreen. A family of 4 will go through 1½ 8 oz bottles of sunscreen in two days. Reapply every 1-2 hours, with swimming and/or excessive sweating.
- When you are outdoors, wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your scalp, face, and neck.
- Wear protective clothing. You can purchase UV protective clothing at REI or L.L. Bean. If you can see through a shirt when you hold it up to the light, it will not protect your skin from the sun.
- Sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection will help prevent damage to your eyes.
Protect the Children You Love
- The majority of our sun exposure occurs before age eighteen. If children use sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater throughout these years, they can reduce their skin cancer risk by 80%. Infants under six months old should never be exposed to the sun. Keep babies out of the sun during peak daylight hours, and cover them with long-sleeved clothing and wide-brimmed sun bonnets.
- After age six months, put sunscreen with at least SPF 30 on children every morning.
- Teach children how to be sun smart. Provide sunscreen for nursery school or play groups, and ask the staff to apply it.
Be concerned, but don’t worry excessively. Do your best to be sun smart and know your skin. With regular self-examination, professional examination, and common sense, any potentially worrisome lesions can be detected early.