How do I reduce my risk for developing melanoma and other skin cancers?
Reduce your risk
- Wear protective clothing, such as a long sleeved shirt, pants, or a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, when possible.
- Seek the shade when appropriate, especially between 10am to 4pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- Regularly use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher on all exposed skin, even on cloudy days. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
- Protect children from the sun by using shade, protective clothing, and applying sunscreen. Remember that ten sunburns prior to age eighteen will increase ones risk of melanoma as an adult by three times!
- Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand, which can reflect the sun’s rays and increase the chance of sunburn.
- Avoid tanning beds. The UV light from tanning beds causes skin cancer, including melanoma. It also causes accelerated photoaging, wrinkling, and sagging of skin.
- Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet (this may include a supplement; especially in Oregon). Do not seek out the sun to increase your vitamin D level.
- Check your birthday suit on your birthday. Look at your skin carefully too see if you have any lesion(s) changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin. Any changing skin lesion should be thought of as suspicious.
My daughter had a sunburn as a child with blisters on her shoulders. Does she have an increased chance of getting melanoma?
Research has shown that a person’s risk of melanoma TRIPLES if they have had 10 or more sunburns before the age of 18, and the risk increases with blistering. Please ensure your child has sunscreen and protective clothing if she is going to be outdoors.
My uncle had emergency abdominal surgery. He received a diagnosis of melanoma, how is this possible?
Many people think that melanoma is a type of cancer involving only the skin, but the truth is that melanoma can originate anywhere in the body where melanocytes are found. In rare instances, melanoma can arise in almost any part of the body, such as the bowel, rectum, urethra, sinuses and many other places.
I have an itchy and red looking mole, what should I do?
I have an itchy
Any skin lesion that appears to be changing or is causing bothersome symptoms such as pain or itching should be assessed by a medical provider. You should make an appointment to see your PCP or a dermatologist. Likely, you will need a skin biopsy to determine the diagnosis.
My hairdresser told me that I have a discoloration that is the size of a small button on my scalp. Is this concerning?
Many hairdressers have found skin cancers that their clients are unable to see. You should make an appointment to see your PCP or a dermatologist for further assessment.
I love to have a tan in the summer. I use 30 block sunscreen regularly. Is this bad?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a “healthy tan.” A tan is simply a sign of sun damage to the skin. The greater the damage to the skin, the more likely you are to develop skin cancers later in life. It is always a good idea to use sunscreen if you are going to be outside. If you know that you are going to be out for an extended period of time, SPF 50 may be a better option. You may need to reapply the sunscreen every 1-2 hours if you are sweating, swimming, or if you are out between the hours of 10 AM – 4 PM when the UV rays are stronger. Ideally, it is best to limit your time in the direct sun. Seeking shade, wearing hats, sunglasses, and UV protective clothing are better options for your skin’s health.
My friend has melanoma and is doing a clinical trial for her treatment. Is this the best choice for her?
There are many clinical trials available for treatment of melanoma. Patients typically need to meet very specific criteria to be eligible for participation in these trials. Clinical trials are designed to help determine the effectiveness of new treatments. New treatments are continually undergoing development. Whether they work as well or better (or worse) than current treatments can only be determined by study in clinical trials.
I have red hair and pale skin with many sizes of moles and spots. Do I have a greater chance of getting melanoma?
I have red hair
Yes. New research now indicates that having the skin pigment associated with red hair in fact can lead to melanoma REGARDLESS of sun exposure! Pheomelanin, the pigment present in those with red hair, causes reactive oxidative damage to the DNA of melanocytes and induces carcinogenesis, independent of ultra-violet rays. People with dark hair have a different skin pigment called eumelanin, which helps shield the skin from harmful UV effects. Absolutely no eumelanin is produced in redheads. Therefore, it is imperative to be monitoring your skin closely regularly for any changes if you have red hair – even if you do not go out into the sun!
My niece is 9 and currently being evaluated for melanoma. Really – she is so young, how is that possible?
Although it is rare, melanoma can arise in children as well as adults. Children can develop standard melanoma lesions or they can develop a different type of melanoma, known as Spitzoid Melanoma. Spitzoid melanomas do not typically follow the ABCDE criteria, they are often nodular and uniform in color. If your child has a skin lesion, please have it evaluated by a pediatrician.
I’ve been watching a mole on my arm for 6 months and it recently grew and became redder and began to bleed. What should I do now?
I’ve been watching
Any skin lesion that is symptomatic (itching, oozing, bleeding, painful) regardless of whether or not it appears to be growing, should be assessed by a medical provider. You should make an appointment to see your PCP or a dermatologist.