As the weather heats up in Florida, our thoughts turn to fun and frolic on its beaches. Sunning, outdoor sports and, evening gardening are all excellent ways to spend time during sunny months. Unfortunately, all that sun can prove detrimental to our long-term health.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer, and Florida has one of the highest incidence rates in the United States. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20 incidents of melanoma are reported per 100,000 people. Nationally, there are 70,000 reported incidents of melanoma each year. Approximately 8,700 are fatal.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a malignant tumor of melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that produce melanin, the dark pigment that is responsible for skin color. They predominantly occur in skin, but are also found in other parts of the body, including the bowel and the eye. The American Family Physician article Early Detection and Treatment of Skin Cancer states, “melanoma is less common than other skin cancers. However, it is much more dangerous and causes the majority (75%) of deaths related to skin cancer.”
A key indicator that a person may have melanoma is the appearance of moles, sores, lumps, or growths on the skin. Yahoo! Health recommends the use of the ABCD system to remember features of skin abnormalities that might be symptoms of melanoma:
- Asymmetry: One half of the abnormal area is different from the other half.
- Borders: The lesion or growth has irregular edges.
- Color: Color changes from one area to another, with shades of tan, brown, or black (sometimes white, red, or blue). A mixture of colors may appear within one spot.
- Diameter: The area is usually (but not always) larger than 6 mm in diameter — about the size of a pencil eraser.
Risks for melanoma include the following:
- Living in sunny climates or at high altitudes
- Long-term exposure to high levels of strong sunlight
- One or more blistering sunburns during childhood
- Use of tanning devices
The melanoma-effected cells and some normal tissue that surround the cancer are surgically removed in the treatment of melanoma. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, they may also need to be removed.
For patients with melanoma that has spread beyond the skin and lymph nodes to the organs, chemotherapy may be used to slow the spread of the disease. However, the melanoma is incurable at this point.
Protect yourself by doing the following:
- Apply a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day.
- Avoid lying in the sun or using tanning devices.
- Minimize sun exposure. Remember that the sun is strongest between 10 am and 4 pm.
- Wear protective clothing, including a hat and sunglasses.
The spring weather that we are experiencing now gives us plenty of opportunity to be outside. You should definitely get your fill of the sun, but you must be careful. You can still enjoy the Nature Coast and be safe; you just need to be informed first. If you’d like to be checked out for melanoma and other skin cancers, schedule an appointment at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson by calling 1-888-741-5119.