On one of the first warm spring days in St. Louis, I came home and found my active dog, Maggie, sound asleep and enjoying the warmth of the sun. Like many humans, she was taking pleasure in a beautiful day and found it relaxing. As the summer approaches, many will spend much more time outside. Despite the inviting nature of a warm day, there are still hidden dangers. 

May 2, 2016 is Melanoma Monday sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) to heighten awareness of the prevalence of skin cancer and motivate individuals to be aware of the early signs of this potentially life-threatening disease. The AAD estimates that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. Approximately, one person dies from melanoma every hour. For this reason, malignant melanoma is called the deadliest form of skin cancer. The AAD encourages everyone to wear orange on May 2 to raise awareness about skin cancer.

The facts about skin cancer and melanoma are sobering. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), an estimated 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma (basal cell and squamous cell) skin cancers are diagnosed annually among 3.3 million people. Most of these are a direct result of exposure to ultraviolet light, and, although highly treatable, often require cosmetically challenging procedures to eradicate. They almost always occur on sun exposed areas of the body. The ACS also estimates 76,380 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed annually. Unfortunately, everyone needs to be aware of the dangers of skin cancer.

There are ways to prevent skin cancer, including malignant melanoma.

  • Avoid ultraviolet light including sunlight to decrease your risk. It takes 10 to 20 years for skin damage to become obvious, but ultraviolet light is associated with an increased risk for developing skin cancer, as it disrupts the collagen and elastin in the skin leading to wrinkles, premature aging, and cataracts.
  • Use sunblock daily with an SPF of 30 or more. Sunscreen needs to be applied to all exposed skin thoroughly including the face, ears, neck, lips, and the feet. It needs to be applied adequately 20 to 30 minutes before exposure. Make sure to reapply every 90 minutes, even on cloudy days.
  • Avoid tanning parlors. Despite claims, they are not safe and have been linked to an increase in the number of cases of melanoma along with premature aging of the skin and wrinkling.
  • Do not forget the importance of protective clothing. This includes long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses if you’re working outside or are reluctant to wear sunscreen.

Melanoma Monday is about raising awareness. It’s a reminder to have an annual dermatologic examination to monitor for changes. Know the warning signs of melanoma.

  • Asymmetry: one half of the mole is different from the other half.
  • Border: should not be irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.
  • Color: should be uniform. It should not vary from one mole to another or within a mole.  Moles with shades of tan and brown, black, sometimes white, red, or blue should be considered suspect.
  • Diameter: moles that are the size of a pencil eraser (5mm) or larger should be suspect.
  • Evolving:  when a mole or skin lesion looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, and color it should be checked out by a dermatologist.

Preventing skin cancer is a year-round concern. Since nearly everyone spends some time outdoors, individuals need to make good decisions. Wear orange on Melanoma Monday and spread the word about skin cancer prevention and awareness.