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What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is the skin cancer that scares.† It's the type of skin cancer most likely to metastasize, and most likely to kill.† The bad news is that it's increasing:† new cases have doubled in the past 20 years.† Nearly 48,000 new cases are expected this year. . .And more than 7,000 people will die from it.†

Are you at risk for melanoma?† If you have one of these risk factors you are 3 times more likely to get melanoma; if you have 3 or more risk factors, your risk increases to 20 times!† The risks are:† having had melanoma before; having a parent, child, or sibling with melanoma; being naturally blonde or redheaded; having marked freckling on your upper back; having had 3 or more blistering sunburns before age 20; having a history of working outdoors for 3 or more summers; or having actinic keratoses.† These are rough, pink or red blemishes that are usually sharply outlined, flat or elevated above the surrounding skin.† Their appearance is directly related to sun exposure.†

Other risk factors include having numerous moles, being over age 50, or taking long-term immunosuppressant medications.

Preventing melanoma involves minimizing sun exposure and maximizing sun protection.† Early detection is critical:† follow up on these ABCD's of melanoma to minimize your risk.† Moles are suspicious if they are A asymmetrical, if they have B Border irregularity, if they vary in C Color, or if they increase in D Diameter.† If you notice any spots on your skin that change in color, size or shape, or you notice any unusual sore, lump, blemish, marking or easy bleeding, discuss this with your physician.† An annual routine skin exam is also a good idea.†

Are there particular spots that should get extra scrutiny?† Look for your most sun-exposed sites.† Women are most likely to get melanoma on their faces, upper backs, chests, and lower legs.† Men are more likely to get it on their faces, upper and lower backs, and chests.

If your doctor suspects melanoma, you'll need to have a biopsy to remove the entire suspicious growth.† Early stage melanomas, however, have an excellent 5 year survival rate of over 90%.

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Created: 8/23/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.
Reviewed: 6/30/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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