May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and as the weather warms up, there’s no better time to learn about preventable skin cancer. If you’ve ever noticed a new or unusual mole on your body and felt concerned about it, your concern isn’t unwarranted. Skin cancer is quite common, and the majority of melanoma are first noticed by individuals and their loved ones, not physicians. Given the importance of prevention and early detection, knowing a couple of facts about melanoma may save someone’s life.
How common is melanoma?
In America, about 20% of people will develop some form of skin cancer by the age of 70. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer, but it’s also the least common. Over the course of 2018, approximately 90,000 new cases will be diagnosed, and there will be roughly 9,000 melanoma-related deaths. It’s also most common among white men.
Is melanoma hereditary?
Yes and no—most cases of melanoma are caused by UV exposure, not genetic predisposition. Among those who develop melanoma, only 1 in 12 will have a direct relative with melanoma. However, at least two genes have been linked to familial melanoma: CD4K and CDKN2A. Possessing these mutated genes means you’ll most likely develop melanoma over your lifetime.
Where is melanoma most commonly found?
Among men, melanoma is typically found on the back, head, neck, and torso. Among women, melanoma usually develops on the arms or legs. But melanoma can develop on any pigmented skin tissue, including the pigment of your eyes.
Is melanoma itchy?
Not all melanomas share the same symptoms. One warning sign of melanoma is a change in sensation on your skin, which includes itchiness, pain, tenderness, redness, and swelling. Itchiness can be a symptom, but it isn’t always present.
Is melanoma raised?
You may have noticed moles can be raised or flat. Melanomas are no different. Sometimes melanoma is raised and pronounced, and sometimes it’s perfectly flat. If you’re trying to distinguish melanoma from a weird-looking mole, look for asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, diameter, and evolving changes. A useful mnemonic for remembering those rules is ABCDE.
How fast does a melanoma spread?
An invasive melanoma will spread and grow quickly. By contrast, a lentigo maligna melanoma tends to develop much slower. But you can’t generalize from type alone. Genetic factors influence how quickly cancer spreads into surrounding tissues, and those vary from one person to the next. In other words, there’s no way to accurately predict how fast a melanoma will spread.
How long can you have melanoma and not know it?
It depends on the type of melanoma. For example, nodular melanoma grows rapidly over a matter of weeks, while a radial melanoma can slowly spread over the span of a decade. Like a cavity, a melanoma may grow for years before producing any significant symptoms.
What’s the survival rate of melanoma?
With early detection, the 5-year survival rate of melanoma is roughly 99%. However, melanoma can enter the brain, lungs, kidneys, heart, liver, GI tract, pancreas, lymph nodes, and other vital systems. The 5-year survival rate for melanoma falls to 63% if it reaches the lymph nodes and 20% for the other organs.
How often does melanoma recur?
Like any type of cancer, melanoma can come back after it has been beaten. In the 5 years following their first instance of melanoma, secondary melanoma occurs in about 1 in 200 people. But adjusted for age, people 65 to 79 are at much greater risk of developing a secondary melanoma.
How can you prevent melanoma?
Most melanoma is caused by exposure to UV radiation. Some of the best things you can do include wearing protective clothing, using sunscreen, and minimizing your exposure to the sun during the middle of the day. Melanoma can be beaten, but like most forms of cancer, prevention and early detection is critical.
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