May: month for awareness

Published 7:17 pm Thursday, May 10, 2007

As we head into the hot weather of summer, we need to be more aware of the dangers the sun can cause to our skin. May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month®.

The most dreaded skin cancer is melanoma. It is the most serious type of skin cancer and more than 53,000 people are diagnosed with it each year. In the U.S., the number of cases of melanoma has increased to twice what it was 30 years ago.

Research continues to discover more about this disease, and according to the findings of a study published Tuesday, older men with a history of melanoma, or with changes in moles are most at risk. Five risk factors have been determined for those most in “HARMM’s” way.

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Dr. Darrell S. Rigel, a noted dermatologist and professor at New York University Medical Center, came up with the acronym for the “five factors: History of previous melanoma; Age over 50; Regular dermatologist absent; Mole change; and Male gender.” This full text of the article is located at

The study conducted at the University was to analyze the screening data collected from 2001-2005 to identify the factors most prevalent in detecting melanoma. Five factors were discovered to independently increase likelihood of suspected melanomas.

“In examining the data collected from the Academy’s skin cancer screening enrollment form and the suspected lesions identified during the skin exam, we found that individuals at highest risk for melanoma – who had four or five of our identified risk factors – comprised only 5.8 percent of the total population, yet they accounted for 13.6 percent of the program’s probable melanoma findings,” said Dr. Rigel. “Interestingly, these people also were 4.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with suspected melanomas than individuals at lowest risk, with zero or only one risk factor.”

The American Academy of Dermatology says, “Early detection of melanoma is critical to effectively treat this potentially fatal disease that accounts for nearly 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths. In 2007, there will be about 108,230 new cases of melanoma – 48,290 in situ (noninvasive) and 59,940 invasive (33,910 men and 26,030 women). At current rates, a person has a one in 33 chance of developing melanoma (both in situ and invasive).”

Everyone should regularly check their skin, the Academy says. “This means looking over your entire body including your back, your scalp, the soles of your feet, between your toes and the palms of your hands. If there are any changes in the size, color, shape or texture of a mole, the development of a new mole, or any other unusual changes in the skin, see your dermatologist immediately.”

The signs and symptoms are easy to detect with the ABCD method, used by the National Cancer Institute to teach people about the disease.

Asymmetry — the shape of one side does not match the shape and size of the other side. A mole’s changing shape is asymmetrical with jagged edges.

Border — The edges are often ragged, notched or even blurred with the pigment often spreading to the surrounding skin.

Color — The color is uneven with shades of black, brown, red, and sometimes gray, white and pink can be found in the lesion.

Diameter — is the last tell-tale of a melanoma. When the size increases from the size of an eraser to larger than a quarter of an inch. Melanomas may be found when an existing mole changes size or shape or both.

The National Cancer Institute says, “Newly formed fine scales and itching in a mole also are common symptoms of early melanoma. In more advanced melanoma, the texture of the mole may change. For example, it may become hard or lumpy. Melanomas may feel different from regular moles. More advanced tumors may itch, ooze, or bleed. But melanomas usually do not cause pain.”

Rigel urges everyone to have regular check ups with a dermatologist to catch any melanomas in the earliest stages. Check-ups won’t prevent the disease, but will help in preventing it from spreading.

“Melanoma can be cured if it is diagnosed and treated when the tumor is thin and has not deeply invaded the skin. However, if a melanoma is not removed at its early stages, cancer cells may grow downward from the skin surface and invade healthy tissue. When a melanoma becomes thick and deep, the disease often spreads to other parts of the body and is difficult to control,” the National Cancer Institute emphasizes.