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Melanoma – Are You At Risk?

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

 

Are you at risk?

May is National Melanoma Awareness month.  Did you know that Melanoma takes more lives than any other skin disease?  Do you think you are at risk for this life-threatening skin cancer? Actually, anyone who is over-exposed to sunlight or UV radiation is at risk for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.

Melanoma manifests in the pigment producing cells of the skin called melanocytes.  The purpose of melanocytes is to protect the skin from harmful UV light from the sun and tanning devices.  Because UV radiation reduces DNA’s ability to repair itself, when the skin becomes over-exposed to UV light, it can cause melanocytes to grow abnormally and develop into skin cancer.

Some people have a higher risk of getting melanoma than others. Did you know that even dark-skinned people and those who tan without burning can get melanoma?

Risk factors for melanoma sited by Mayo Clinic:

  • Fair skin: Having less pigment (melanin) in your skin means you have less protection from damaging UV radiation. If you have blond or red hair, light-colored eyes, and you freckle or sunburn easily, you’re more likely to develop melanoma than is someone with a darker complexion. But melanoma can develop in people with skin of color.
  • A history of sunburn: One or more severe, blistering sunburns as a child or teenager can increase your risk of melanoma as an adult.
  • Excessive ultraviolet (UV) light exposure: Exposure to UV radiation, which comes from the sun and from tanning beds, can increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.
  • Living closer to the equator or at a higher elevation: People living closer to the earth’s equator, where the sun’s rays are more direct, experience higher amounts of UV radiation, as compared with those living in higher latitudes. In addition, if you live at a high elevation you’re exposed to more UV radiation.
  • Having many moles or unusual moles: Having more than 50 ordinary moles on your body indicates an increased risk of melanoma: Also, having an unusual type of mole increases the risk of melanoma. Known medically as dysplastic nevi, these tend to be larger (greater than 1/5 inch or 5 millimeters) than normal moles and have irregular borders and a mixture of colors.
  • A family history of melanoma: If a close relative, such as a parent, child or sibling, has had melanoma, you have a greater chance of developing it too.
  • Weakened immune system: People with weakened immune systems have an increased risk of skin cancer. This includes people who have HIV/AIDS and those who have undergone organ transplants.

Though Melanoma is the deadliest of skin cancers, the rate for survival significantly improves with early detection. It is important to become familiar with the appearance of your freckles, moles, spots and other skin markings so that you are able to identify changes should they occur.  During your self-examination, watch for changes in the size, texture, or color of moles, freckles or spots,  shiny pink or red lesions that appear suddenly or slowly grow in clusters, or a sore that does not heal.  A spot or growth that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, fade, or bleed can also be a warning sign that will require a visit to your dermatologist.

Through-out the year there are free skin cancer screenings available through the American Academy of Dermatology.  Information on these local screenings can be found at www.aad.org/public/exams/screenings/index.html.

To reduce your chances of developing skin cancer, Dr. Castillo, Medical Director of Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Clinic suggests following these simple sun safety rules:

  • Sun rays are the strongest between the hours of 10 AM – 4 PM, avoid exposing your skin during these times whenever possible.
  • Practice the Australian slogan – “SLIP, SLOP, SLAP & WRAP” – slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap-around sunglasses.
  • Choose a sunscreen that is labeled “broad-spectrum” UVA/AVB protection. The ingredient label should list titanium dioxide or micronized zinc oxide, 4% of higher and an SPF of 45 or higher.
  • Most rays can penetrate through the clouds, so use sunscreen every day of the year, even on cloudy days.
  • Re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours, while exposed to the sun.
  • UVA rays are highly present all year, even on snowy or cloudy days. These rays penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB rays. Therefore, UVA rays may not give us the signal (red, tanned skin…) that we have been over-exposed to the sun. Remember, UVA rays can penetrate car windows and loose woven clothing as well. It is important to use sunscreens on exposed skin all year round.
  • Keep skin well hydrated by drinking plenty of water and using quality moisturizing skin care products. Dry skin is more easily affected by the sun.

For Children Under One Year Of Age:

  • Babies need extra protection from the sun, even if they have naturally dark skin.
  • Keep them out of direct sun light; use shaded areas, an umbrella, or stroller canopy.
  • Dress them in light weight clothing that covers the whole body. Use a wide brim hat to protect their ears and face.
  • When applying a sunscreen, apply a small amount to a limited area and watch for a reaction before continuing to apply it all over an infant. Choosing a physical sun block with titanium dioxide or micronized zinc oxide, rather than a chemical sunscreen may help to avoid a skin reaction.

As the Medical Skincare and Laser Specialist for Cosmetic Plastic Surgery and Skin Restoration Center, I am available to answer any additional questions regarding sun-protection you may have. You may contact me at both our Savoy (Champaign-Urbana area) and Bloomington, Illinois locations.

Savoy location at 217-359-7508
Bloomington location at 309-662-0436

Roxanne Hammond, RMA
Skincare and Laser Specialist
G. D. Castillo, M.D.
COSMETIC PLASTIC SURGERY
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https://www.cosmeticplasticsurgery.com
800-252-7123 (within IL)
217-359-7508 Savoy (Champaign-Urbana)
309-662-0436 Bloomington