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Melanoma: What It Is & How To Prevent It

September 13, 2010

Melanoma - What it is and how to prevent melanoma

Melanoma

Of all the cancers, skin cancer (melanoma) is the most common form and one of the fastest growing cancers here in the US. Thanks largely to sun exposure and tanning beds, for women under 30 years of age, your chances of developing this type of cancer are increasing at a faster pace than any other age group. Melanoma, unless detected early, will quickly spread to lymph nodes and other areas in the body--most commonly the liver, lungs, bones and brain. It’s sister cancers of the skin, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, are less dangerous since their affected area is limited to only the skin’s dermal layers. 

Each one of us has melanin in our skin, hair and eyes; it is what’s responsible for our “coloring.” Melanocytes, the cells which produce our pigment, are located in the lower part of the epidermis, the eyes, scalp, hands, feet, digestive tract, spinal cord and brain. While cutaneous melanoma (skin cancer) is the most common form of melanoma, it can spread rapidly to other parts of the body because of the preponderance of melanocytes throughout your body.

Melanoma most commonly surfaces during one’s prime of life (average age of 50). However, the fastest growing population afflicted with melanoma is ages 30 and under. It more commonly affects Caucasians, but all ages, races and skin types are at risk. The best thing you can do about melanoma is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Fortunately, that is easier than it sounds.

Preventing Melanoma and Other Sun Damage

The good thing about Melanoma compared with other forms of cancer is that we actually have the power to prevent it in many cases. Good practices can help you to lead a melanoma-free life. If you read our Causes of Melanoma section, you will get a lot of information on risk factors. For now, suffice it to say that the single biggest risk factor is exposure to UV (ultraviolet) rays.

UV rays most commonly come from the sun. For that under 30 crowd with the fastest growth rate of melanoma, they often come from tanning beds too. The key to minimizing your risk of contracting melanoma is to minimize your exposure to UV radiation, both from the sun and from tanning beds.

Ever wonder why your physician advises you to stay away from tanning beds and wear sunscreen? It’s to prevent the UV rays from damaging your skin and, potentially, causing melanoma! Sunscreen actually works. Be sure to use a minimum of SPF 30 and look for full spectrum protection. For some hints and good suggestions, be sure to read our article, “The Best Sunscreen.” We reviewed a lot of different sun protection brands and came up with some real winners. We also explain the difference between UVA and UVB and why you need protection from both!

In addition, physicians recommend you examine your skin once a month. Avoid the sun at peak hours (between 10am and 4pm). Be sure to apply sunscreen every couple of hours after water sports or sweating. Protective clothing is also very important when you are going to be exposed to sun for a long period of time. Finally, avoid tanning beds all together. Spray tans look great too--that’s why all the stars get them!


Melanoma Safety Guide

  1. What is Melanoma? How can it be prevented? (You are here.)
  2. Causes of Melanoma--Risk Factors
  3. Facts about Melanoma
  4. Melanoma Detection
  5. Self-Check for Melanoma
  6. Find a Doctor for Melanoma
  7. Melanoma Diagnosis
  8. Treatment of Melanoma
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