The M Word

April 17, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

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A type of cancer that forms in the melanocyte cells, which are the cells that form the melanin or pigment of the skin. Melanoma is less common than other skin cancers, but is the most serious type of skin cancer. Like other skin cancers, it is often curable in the early stages. It can occur anywhere on the skin, but most likely occurs in the trunk of men and the legs of women. The face and neck are also common sites. Melanoma can spread to other parts of the body.

Risk Factors May Include:

  • UV light exposure-natural and artificial and a history of severe sunburns
  • Moles-excessive number of normal moles (over 50) and large number of atypical moles (dysplastic nevi)
  • Fair Skin-occurs more often in people with fair skin, freckles and light hair
  • Family History-10% of all people diagnosed have a family history
  • Immune Suppression-a weakened immune system due to other factors
  • Age-the most common cancer in people younger than 30, but more likely to occur in older populations
  • Sex-Men have a higher incidence
  • History of Melanoma-people who have had melanoma are at greater risk for a second diagnosis
  • Xeroderma Pigmentosum-a rare inherited genetic condition that prevents the skin from repairing

For more information on risk factors see the American Cancer Society site.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that in the U.S. in 2008 there will be 62,480 new cases of melanoma and 8,420 melanoma deaths.

Prevention can be as simple as understanding the UV light index for your area, limiting UV exposure, wearing sunglasses, protective clothing and sunscreen. Mole inspection and removal is another important facet of the prevention of melanoma.

The Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) provides an easy website, as part of their SunWise Program to determine the UV index for your area of the U.S. so you can take preventative measures to regulate your exposure.

Cancer Research UK, provides links to the UV index for different parts of the UK and Europe.

Diagnosis and Treatment:

The ABCD rule is often taught to teach the public to assess moles.

A-Asymmetry. Divided in half, do both sides of your mole look the same?

B-Border. Are the borders or edges of your mole irregular?

C-Color. Is your mole different colors?

D-Diameter. Is your mole larger than 6 mm? (the end of an eraser)

It is important to remember that this doesn’t cover all mole issues. Any change in the appearance of a mole, including sensitivity, a skin lesion that doesn’t heal, or any other skin changes should be reported to your physician.

Diagnosis for melanoma will begin with a physical and then proceed to a biopsy. A CT may be indicated after your biopsy to check for metastasis. The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) staging system for melanoma was updated and is available on their website or at the American Cancer Society site.

Treatment of melanoma may include removal of the mole, chemotherapy, radiation or biotherapy. Treatment is wholly individual and depends on you and the staging of your melanoma. Stage 0 melanoma has not spread past the epidermis and may only require removal of the melanoma and application of a topical cream.

Early detection is the key.

More information on treatment options, including information on clinical trials can be found at the Mayo Clinic site.

A final note: As part of May, Skin Cancer Awareness Month, The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and Olay has teamed up to offer free screenings with a dermatologic surgeon for you and a friend. The initiative, Skin Cancer Takes Friends can be seen in magazine ads (such as MORE magazine), and features actress Marcia Cross. For more details see the website.


Sun Protective Clothing, a company created by a melanoma survivor.

Coolibar provides sun protective clothing with a 50+UPF.

Solar Eclipse Sun Protective Clothing, started by the spouse of a melanoma survivor.

Support and Further Information:

The Melanoma Patient’s Information Page, a site packed with information, resources and latest news. “Providing the support and information you need to be a proactive participant in your treatment decisions.”

The American Melanoma Foundation, a support, education, and advocacy organization ” intent on reducing the incidence of this deadly, but preventable disease.”

Melanoma Support and Education Foundation, an organization “created to provide support and education to the melanoma community, inform the public on the prevention of melanoma and promote sun safe habits.”

Melanoma Source, your source for melanoma information.

Battling Books:

Skin Cancer by Keyvan Nouri (2007)

Understanding Melanoma: What You Need to Know by Perry Robbins (2006)

What You Really Need to Know About Moles and Melanoma by Jill R. Schofield and William A. Robinson (2000)

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13 Responses to “The M Word”
  1. Cassie, good questions.

    Here is a recent article from our archives,
    But for Skin Cancer Month in May I will do a post on skin cancer in general.

  2. Cassie J says:

    Hi, interesting post. My neighbor’s daughter in law recently lost a long battle with skin cancer. She lives in Texas and was doing treatment that took her all the way across the state to…I think Dallas…for some treatment they excel in. My mother-in-law had a malignant melanoma, too, and they really took a big chunk out of the back of her ankle…of all places. But it never recurred. This was over ten years ago. I still worry about it, though. she’s a lifelong farm wife, spent her days in the sun, gardening and working with the farm.

    Is sun exposure as big a culprit for Malignant Melanoma as it is for the regular less deadly forms of skin cancer…I maybe have the words wrong…basel(sp) cell and squamish(sp) cell? I thought those were caused more by skin cancer than the nastier malignant kind.

  3. I always dislike sad news. But I will share this in the hopes someone reading will get screened today.

    From the Associated Press:(
    Posted: 2008-04-18 09:23:31
    E Street Band Keyboardist Dies at 58

    NEW YORK (April 18)”Danny Federici, the longtime keyboard player for Bruce Springsteen whose stylish work helped define the E Street Band’s sound on hits from “Hungry Heart” through “The Rising,” died Thursday. He was 58.

    Federici, who had battled melanoma for three years, died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. News of his death was posted late Thursday on Springsteen’s official Web site.”

  4. Thanks for stopping by Mary.
    Early detection really is the key.

  5. Mary C says:

    I had a former employer die recently from malignant melanoma. His doctor caught it, not him. Just because a mole that he’d had all his life…that hadn’t changed…looked to the doctor like it was…I suppose, the right TYPE of mole to be dangerous.

    He had a fight on his hands and lived a lot longer than once he would have, nearly four years. But he lost that battle. Melanoma is a nasty one.

  6. Thank you, Missy for stopping by.

  7. Missy Tippens says:

    Thanks for the reminder! It’s almost time for my yearly dermatologist skin cancer screen and I need to make the appointment.

  8. I remember the baby oil days..boy were we uniformed back then.

    I am just grateful I was at sea level then not 5280 land like I am now in Colorado.

  9. Myra Johnson says:

    Vital info, Tina. I’ve been keeping an eye on my husband for 35 years now. He did a lot of lifeguarding throughout high school and college, and of course in those days no one gave SPF lotions any thought. He’s one of those who tanned with baby oil and iodine. He also comes from a family of blonds.

  10. Thanks for sharing, Ruth.

    I’m vain. I stay out of the sun because I get melasma, those darkened patches on my face due to AGE????!!!! and the sun.

  11. Ruth Blodgett says:

    Tina, this is timely information with summer coming up. Skin cancer is a problem in both sides of our family, with my FIL having had multiple melanomas removed, and my bout with a milder form of skin cancer.

    It’s good to raise awareness of the warning signs and skin types. Thanks so much for the good info update.


  12. Hi, Julie. Thanks for stopping by and sharing. 🙂

  13. Thanks for this great article! I have a skin condition which sunlight helps considerably, so skin cancer is always a concern for me. Appreciate the info.

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