Melanoma is a modern epidemic, rising consistently in incidence and mortality for the U.S. population over the past several generations. Each year in the United States, an estimated 76,250 new cases are diagnosed. Treatment is improving for advanced disease and for adjuvant therapy, but the largest gains are obtained from early detection and treatment. Earlier treatment requires smaller treatments that have the ability to decrease mortality. To encourage skin screenings, The American Academy of Dermatology designates the first Monday in May as Melanoma Monday®.
Risk Factors for Melanoma
- Skin color – Those with light-colored eyes and skin are at a higher risk than those with brown eyes and naturally darker skin.
- History of sunburns – This is a theme, particularly when the history of sunburns was during childhood and teenage years.
- Exposure to ultraviolet radiation – Especially recreational sunbathing and tanning bed exposure put the skin at higher risk.
- Moles – An increased number of moles, or the presence of atypical or dysplastic moles, may be a warning sign of higher risk.
- Suppressed immune systems – Certain states of immunosuppression (e.g., what is required to for organ (renal) transplant patients and those with lymphoma (e.g. Hodgkin’s disease) increase vulnerability to melanoma.
- History of melanoma – Personal or family history of melanoma increases your predisposition for developing melanoma.
Melanoma therapy has improved surgically and medically over the past decade, but the potential to reduce mortality is far greater with screening and early removal than with any other current treatment options, reducing melanoma mortality by nearly 50 percent in one recent study. Even if you don’t have any known risk factors, it’s important to get your skin screened. Here are some quick facts about melanoma screenings:
- Screening is painless and quick (it takes only several minutes).
- Screening can be done by trained primary care physicians or allied health professionals, as well as by dermatologists and medical or surgical oncologists.
- Screening should be part of annual physical examinations with your physician, as well as a monthly exercise that you do yourself at home.