There is one cancer that has jumped in the percentage of people who develop the disease. Since the 1980s, cases of melanoma have doubled—perhaps the newly-found cases can be attributed to better science, but it still is surprising to know how preventable skin cancer can be. Melanoma is a form of skin cancer. It occurs when skin cells (melanocytes) develop abnormally.
Sun exposure causes the melanocytes to produce more melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, causing the skin to tan. Our skin, the largest organ of the human body, is always producing more cells to repair and replace old and dead cells in the skin. As we age, this process slows down, and sometimes can go haywire. The skin cells form when the body doesn’t need them and do not die when they should. The extra cells can form a growth or tumor—not all are cancerous (malignant).
It is important to discuss any concerns about cancer with your doctor to assure early detection and treatment. Some questions you may want to ask might include:
- How is cancer diagnosed? If you notice any marked change in moles or skin areas, your doctor should be notified. A specialist, such as a dermatologist, can determine if they suspect cancer by looking at the affected skin or growth. You will then probably receive a biopsy to definitively specify if it’s cancer.
- What causes skin cancer? No one really knows why one person may get skin cancer and another may not. However, those with a family or personal history of melanoma or other cancer are at higher risk for developing the disease. Those with fair or light skin (may also have red or blond hair and blue eyes) also are more at risk. Mole count could also play a part; if you have more than 50 moles on your skin, you may be at risk.
- So, I’ve been diagnosed; now what? If diagnosed, the doctor will perform a thorough examination and testing to determine the extent of your illness (staging) and if the cancer has spread.
- How is skin cancer treated? Your doctor may perform surgery to remove a tumor, you also may receive radiation, chemo, or other treatment. You likely will be referred to a specialist such as an oncologist for some of these treatment options.
- What is the long-term risk? As with most conditions, early detection and treatment is key for slowing progression of the disease, and giving the best possible prognosis. However if not all cancer is treated, or not treated enough following removal of tumors, the cancer can recur at a later time or spread to a different part of the body if it breaks from the initial site (metastasis) and enters the lymphatic system. Once you have melanoma, you are at higher risk for developing another primary disease site.
- Should I get a second opinion? It is your choice, but you should be your own best advocate. If you want a second opinion, ask for one! Many doctors welcome a second opinion contrary to what you might think. Many insurance companies may cover additional testing performed by a different doctor if your doctor requests it. Some insurance companies even require a second opinion. The short delay taken in getting all the information to allow you to feel more confident and in control of your health in most cases will not be detrimental to your treatment.
- How can I prevent melanoma? It is important to follow a healthy lifestyle, including eating well, exercising, and wearing sunscreen when outside (especially if you have fair or light skin). If you don’t wear sunscreen, stay covered with long sleeves, pants, and brimmed hat, or don’t go outside. An article found on AOL, “Sun Damaged, No More: The Ultimate Sun Protection Know-it-All Guide” offers more tips and information.
- Is there any research I can do on my own and what sources would you recommend? A cancer diagnosis can be scary, frustrating, and depressing. Your doctor can suggest their favorite reputable web sites and support groups for obtaining more information and helping you cope with cancer.
www.cancer.gov Skin Cancer-Melanoma
http://shopping.aol.com/articles/2010/05/11/sun-protection/ AOL, “Sun Damaged, No More: The Ultimate Sun Protection Know-it-All Guide”
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Christine Jeffries is a writer/editor for work and at heart, and lives in a home of testosterone with her husband and two sons. Christine is interested in women’s health and promoting strong women.