You are at a higher risk of developing melanoma if you have one or more of the following characteristics:
- use of tanning beds
- fair skin or skin that burns easily and rarely tans
- red or blond hair; blue or light eyes
- freckle easily
- a history of one or more severe sunburns or blistering sunburns before the age of 20
- numerous actinic keratoses, flat pink, scaly, spots that grow on sundamaged skin of older, fair-skinned people
- A family history of melanoma (an immediate family member with melanoma increases your risk by 50%)
- pigmented spots on the skin (lentigines), flat, brown, sometimes large spots found most often on the face, arms, chest, back, and backs of hands, and associated with aging or sun-damaged skin
Protect yourself! The Melanoma Network of Canada supports and promotes the slogan Slip! Slop! Slap! … and wear sunglasses!
Check you skin monthly! It only take five minutes. If detected early enough, 90% of skin cancers can be cured. To learn more go to: www.myskincheck.ca
It is important to know what to look for and to check your skin regularly. If melanoma is found and treated early, the chances for long-term survival are excellent. However, as it progresses, melanoma becomes increasingly harder to treat and there are limited successful options for treatment.
When doing self-examinations make sure that you or someone else checks your back, the back of your neck and ears, your scalp, your arms and torso, the backs of your legs and between your toes or on the bottom of your feet. You may also want to check in your genital and anal area for moles that are changing. You are looking for:
- A mole that changes shape, size, colour, or surface
- Any new growth on your skin, including pale, pearly nodules that may grow larger and crust, or red, scaly, sharply defined patches
- Any sore that doesn’t heal
- Any patch of skin that bleeds, oozes, itches, or becomes red and bumpy
As you begin self-examinations it is important to visit a physician to establish a baseline for your moles, blemishes, freckles, and any other marks on your skin, so that you may begin to monitor your skin for any changes.
It is also a good idea to photograph a suspicious mole for your reference.
Use a ruler beside the mole in the picture for scale. It is a good reference tool for your doctor or dermatologist to determine changes.
It is important that melanoma is diagnosed early. If you notice any of the following, contact your doctor for referral to a dermatologist.
Melanomas are frequently asymmetrical: the shape of one half does not match the other.
Melanomas frequently have uneven or irregular borders (ragged or notched edges).
Melanomas often contain multiple shades of brown or black but can sometimes be mixed with white, gray, blue,or red. Some melanomas will show a loss of color in a pre-existing mole or in the area surrounding the mole.
Melanomas are often larger than 6 mm (1/4 inch) in diameter. However, with increased awareness about early detection, about 30% of melanomas are found when they are less than 6 mm in diameter.
Any change. Melanomas typically have shown some evidence of change in the months prior to diagnosis. If the mole is itchy, growing, scabbing or bleeding, see your dermatologist immediately.
Make an appointment with your physician if you observe changes that concern you and then pursue an appointment with a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer. Remember it is important that melanoma be found and treated in its early stages.
The number one preventable risk factor for melanoma is overexposure to the sun’s damaging rays.
Although there are some risk factors for melanoma that cannot be changed, such as skin type and family history, the majority of people develop melanoma from an overexposure to the sun’s damaging rays, known as ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
There are 3 types of UV rays:
- Ultraviolet rays (UVA) make up most of the sun’s natural light and can penetrate deep into the skin causing wrinkles, aging and skin cancer.
- Ultraviolet B rays (UVB) are the most damaging to our skin and are the main cause of sunburns; they are almost 1000 times stronger than UVA rays and are the largest contributor to DNA cell damage and skin cancer.
- Ultraviolet C rays (short-wave radiation) never reach the earth’s surface because the atmosphere filters them out.
Remember UV rays can get through clouds, fog, and haze. Even on cloudy days, UV radiation reaches the earth.
on photo protective clothing or clothing with a tight weave to cover your arms and legs.
Wear a broad rimmed hat to protect your eyes, neck ears and face from the damaging rays of peek hour sun from 10 am to 3 pm. Ideally the hat should provide enough of a shadow to cover your entire face and should be made from a tested UPF fabric or very tight weave.
on a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB radiation with SPF 30 or higher (SPF is a measure of the protection against UVB radiation, not UVA radiation which causes premature aging of the skin and suppression of the immune system). REAPPLY EVERY TWO HOURS! Remember you do not have to tan or burn to experience significant cellular or DNA damage.
Sun exposure is radiation exposure which can lead to skin cancer and/or melanoma.
Sunscreens can be classified into chemical absorbers and physical blockers.
Chemical absorbers work by absorbing UV radiation. These sunscreens must first be absorbed into the skin. Absorption takes 15-20 minutes which is why you need to apply before you go out into the sun. They can be UVA, or UVB, or UVA and UVB. Chemical absorbers that provide excellent UVB protection are roxadimate, dioxybenzone* , avobenzone*, oxybenzone*, sulisonbenzone*, octocrylene*, octyl methoxycinnamate, ethylhexyl salicylate, trolamine salicylate.
*also provides good protection for UVA rays.
Physical blockers work by scattering and reflecting UV radiation and begin to work right away. Some people dislike these sunscreens because they leave a white film on your skin. They are now available in bright, fluorescent colours and are fun for children and teenagers and protect against the full UV spectrum and are chemically inert.
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