In preparation for the summer season, there are health observances in May that are focusing on awareness about skin cancer.
It is estimated that 1 million cases of skin cancer is diagnosed in the US each year. About one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Of all types of skin cancers, melanoma is the most deadly, commonly affecting young adults aged 25 to 29 years of age.
Melanoma is characterized by pigment-producing cells that grow and reproduce uncontrollably. It may suddenly on the skin or may develop on an existing mole. According to researchers at St. Louis University, the identifying signs of melanoma are:
- Asymmetry – one half is unlike the other half
- Border – irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border
- Color – varied from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes white, red or blue
- Diameter – while melanomas are usually greater than 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, they can be smaller
- Evolving – a mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color
Who is at risk of developing melanoma?
- People older 40 years of age
- People with a fair complexion
- People who sunburn easily
- People who have many moles
- People with a personal or family history of skin cancer
- People who spend long periods of time exposed to the sun
- People exposed to UV radiation at recreation or the work place, e.g. use of tanning salons, sunbathing, etc.
However, just because you are of the dark-haired, dark-skinned type, and you never sunburn easily doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about UV radiation. According to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR), certain variants of the MC1R gene increase the melanoma risk of people who are normally of low risk profile by almost two-fold. The study was presented by researchers from the Pennsylvania University.
How do we prevent skin cancer?
Here are simple tips on skin cancer prevention.
Use sunblock. It is advisable to use sun protection, even in children. Regular use of sunblock during the first 18 years of one’s life can reduce the lifetime risk by 78%. Use sunscreens which blocks UV A as well as UV B radiation. For it to be effective, a sunscreen must have a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 15.
Stay out of the midday sun. UV radiation is strongest at midday. Enjoy th early morning or late afternoon sun instead.
Have regular skin cancer screenings. Free skin cancer screenings are being offered by health and advocacy groups. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) offers free screening all over the US. You can request a notification from the AAD when there is a scheduled screening within a 50-mile radius from where you live. You can also send an eCard to family and friends to help spread awareness on skin cancer and inform about free screenings.
Do a self-check for skin cancer. By using the abovementioned signs for melanoma, you can check yourself and your family for suspicious pigmentation. The AAD also gives us instructions on how to perform a skin self-exam.
- Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then right and left sides with arms raised.
- Bend elbows and look carefully at forearms, upper underarms and palms.
- Look at the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes and on the sole.
- Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part hair for a closer look.
- Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.
Avoid suntanning beds. Even artificial UV rays from suntanning lamps and beds can cause skin cancer.
The latest research news on skin cancer
Researchers from St. Louis University report on the effectiveness of a topical cream in treating certain melanoma. The researchers used the cream imiquimod in treating lentigo maligna (LM) which the most common type of melanoma of the head and neck. LM is “a type of “melanoma-in- situ”, the earliest stage of melanoma [which] precedes the more invasive form, lentigo maligna melanoma (LMM).” Imiquimod was used in conjunction with surgery. Skin surgery removed the invasive area while the topical cream was applied in the surrounding area. The cream supposedly can supposedly limit the area of surgery as well as minimize disfigurement and the risk of recurrence.
According to lead researcher Dr. Scott Fosko, chairman of the department of dermatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine
“As we’re seeing melanoma in younger and younger people, in their 30s and 40s, there is a longer window for the cancer to return and a greater desire to avoid disfiguring surgery…This subtype of melanoma is becoming more and more common, and can be one of the more challenging melanomas to manage”.
In lab tests, researchers at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center demonstrated that that the yellow spice curcumin which is also found turmeric and curry powder seems to be able to block the pathway to melanoma development.