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Can You Tell Melanoma Myth from Fact?

Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed annually in the United States. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, makes up only 1 percent of skin cancer cases, but causes the most skin cancer deaths.

Every year, roughly 76,000 Americans are diagnosed with invasive melanoma and 10,000 people die from it.

Think you know enough about your risk for melanoma? Keep reading for more information.

Learn more about skin cancer and melanoma care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.  

Who Is at Risk for Melanoma?

“Fair-skinned people, especially those with light or red hair who burn easily after very little sun exposure, are at higher risk of developing melanoma,” says John M. Kirkwood, MD, director,  Melanoma Center at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

“That risk increases if they have a family history of melanoma. Those who use tanning beds, have more moles, or have had at least one blistering sunburn also are at higher risk.”

RELATED: Find Out More About Sun Damage and UV Exposure 

What Is the Best Way to Protect Yourself Against Melanoma?

“The best way to protect against melanoma is to prevent the UV rays of the sun from contacting the skin,” says Dr. Kirkwood.

“If you must be outdoors, stay out of direct sun during peak hours. Wear protective clothing —such as wide-brimmed hats and light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants—to protect your skin. Use sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide, which are better at blocking UV rays. And, of course, stay away from of tanning beds.”

Having a Lot of Moles Is a Sign of Melanoma: Myth or Fact?

That is a myth.

Common moles rarely turn into melanoma, but people with more than 50 common moles may have an increased chance of developing melanoma.

“Check your moles regularly and note any changes in their shape, size, or color, or if there’s one that’s new or looks different from the others,” says Dr. Kirkwood.

“If you notice a change, call your doctor if he or she is trained in skin cancer detection, or consult a dermatologist or melanoma specialist. You don’t have to be seen the same day, but don’t ignore it. Early detection is important. The cure rate for early-stage melanoma is well over 95 percent.”

To remember what to look for in moles and skin lesions, think ABCDE:

  • Asymmetry — one side of the mole is different from the other
  • Border — is irregular, ragged, or poorly defined
  • Color — not uniform; has shades of tan, brown, or black, or sometimes even white, red, or blue
  • Diameter — usually wider than the eraser of a pencil, but can be smaller
  • Evolving — a mole or skin lesion that looks different than it used to, is different from your other moles, or has changed in size, shape, or color (also known as the “ugly duckling” principle).

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center offers free skin cancer screenings by a specialist on the third Friday of each month. To make an appointment, call 412-692-4724.