Prevent and Detect Skin Cancer This Month

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Early detection and treatment is imperative. When found early and treated, the cure rate is nearly 100%. Allowed to grow, melanoma can quickly spread to other parts of the body. When melanoma spreads, it can be deadly.

Melanoma Monday

To raise awareness of melanoma and other types of skin cancer, and to encourage early detection through self-exams, the American Academy of Dermatology designates May as Melanoma and Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month and the first Monday in May as Melanoma Monday. This year it kicks off with Melanoma Monday, May 5, with the tag line under the banner of “Prevent. Detect. Live.” The rest of the month will be dedicated to SPOT Skin Cancer.

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Early detection and treatment is imperative. When found early and treated, the cure rate is nearly 100%. Allowed to grow, melanoma can quickly spread to other parts of the body. When melanoma spreads, it can be deadly.

  • In 2014, it is estimated that 9,710 deaths will be attributed to melanoma.
  • On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour.
  • Melanoma is the most common cancer for young adults 25 to 29 years old.
  • Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.
  • When caught early, skin cancer – including melanoma – is highly treatable. The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent. Once it has spread to the lymph nodes, the survival rate falls rapidly.

Prevent. Detect. Live.

You can play a significant role in protecting yourself from melanoma. As with all serious medical problems, prevention is preferable. There are risk factors for melanoma, including skin type, family history of melanoma, history of sunburn and indoor tanning bed exposure. You can’t change your skin type and family history of melanoma but you can certainly reduce the risk of sunburn and indoor tanning bed exposure.

Because the death rate from melanoma is directly related to the depth of invasion of the cancer, and spread to the lymph nodes and other organs, early detection and treatment is a key factor in surviving melanoma. Although melanoma can occur in locations such as the back lining of the eye, and around the spinal cord and brain that are not accessible to visual examination, the majority of cases occur on the skin of the face, scalp and body, and less commonly under the nails or in mucous membranes. You can examine these areas with skin self-examination.

By influencing the first two – Prevent and Detect – You can influence the third – Live.


Risk factors for melanoma include factors both out of your control –skin type and family history - and those over which you have a major influence – sun exposure, sun protection and indoor tanning. Although anyone can develop melanoma, if your skin type or family history makes you more at risk, it is even more important that you reduce your risk by moderating your sun exposure, protecting children until they are old enough to understand the importance of sun protection, and not going to the tanning bed.

Skin Type Risk of Melanoma

Anyone can get melanoma. The highest risk in in people who have light skin, but people who have brown and black skin also get melanoma, and may get it in unusual sites such as inside the mouth, under the nails or on the palms and soles.

The skin types that are most at risk of melanoma:

  • Have fair skin, especially if you also have red or blond hair and blue or green eyes.
  • Have sun-sensitive skin, who rarely tans or who burn easily.
  • Have 50-plus moles, large moles, or unusual-looking moles.

Family or Medical History Risk of Melanoma

Family/medical history that increase the risk of melanoma

  • Melanoma runs in the family (a close blood relative - parent, child, sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle had melanoma).
  • You had another skin cancer, but most especially another melanoma.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • History of breast or thyroid cancer.

Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation Risk of Melanoma

  • Excessive exposure to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun and indoor tanning devices is the most important preventable cause of all skin cancers, including melanoma.
  • The World Health Organization has declared indoor tanning devices to be cancer-causing agents that are in the same category as tobacco.
  • Multiple studies have found a 59-75% increase in the risk of melanoma in those who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning, and the risk increases with each use.
  • A recent study estimates that exposure to indoor tanning devices causes more than 450,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 10,000 melanoma cases each year in the United States, Europe and Australia.
  • A history of bad sunburns, especially blistering sunburns, and especially in childhood and teenage years increases the risk of melanoma.
  • Living closer to the equator where the sunlight is more intense increases the risk of melanoma.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers

  • Stop intentionally tanning. Tanning outdoors, using tanning beds, and sitting under sun lamps are not safe. Just stop.
  • Spend time outdoors when the sun is less intense. Before 10 a.m. and after 2 p.m., the sun’s rays are less intense.
  • Wear sunscreen every single day, year round. Even on cloudy, rainy, and snowy days, you need to wear sunscreen. Find one you like, and will wear, like our DCL Super Sheer Sunscreen SPF 50+, and put it on every morning. Apply it to any areas that will be exposed to the sun. Don’t forget your neck, the V of your chest, forearms and back of the hands. Put it on at least 20 minutes before you go outside, and if you spend time outside, reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours, and after water exposure or toweling off after swimming or sweating.
  • Here is what to look for in a sunscreen, its pretty simple:
    • A Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30.
    • Broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection.
  • Wear sunglasses that have UV protection. Melanoma can develop in the eyes.
  • Put some clothes on. Long sleeves, a hat, and pants would be a good start.
  • Don’t get sunburned.

You don’t have to live like a vampire, or be excessively paranoid. JUST BE REASONABLE. Life is short--don’t make it any shorter.


Since early detection of melanoma is so important, you need to be aware of changes in moles, or new moles by examining your skin for signs of skin cancer and consult a dermatologist if you notice anything suspicious. The American Academy of Dermatology has some very good resources, with pictures and everything, to help you know what to look for, and how to do a skin self-exam.

So check out:

How to SPOT Skin Cancer infographic for stats and pics


Skin Cancer: Body Mole Map, which tells you how to do a skin self-exam, what to look for including pictures and has an area for you to record your moles or suspicious areas.


When melanoma is detected early, it is close to 100% curable with an excision to remove it and a surrounding safety margin of normal skin. The dermatologist numbs the skin, the surgically cuts out the melanoma and some of the normal-looking skin around the melanoma. Most of the time, this can be performed in a dermatologist’s office. If the melanoma is more advanced, or in a particularly difficult area, you may be referred to a specialist for the removal or for more treatment.

Patients always ask me “How do I know whether a mole is normal or not.” The answer is “You can’t, that’s not your job.”

You can get an idea by looking for the ABCDE signs of melanoma as outlined in the resources above, but it is very common for a patient to worry about a mole that is completely normal, and to not notice or worry about one that is abnormal. I tell my patients – “Your job is to notice if something has changed or is new, my job is to know if it’s OK or not.” Therefore, you do your job and see your dermatologist if you notice a new or changing spot or mole, or if you are at risk of melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer. Reduce your risk by protecting yourself from the sun, and not intentionally tanning. After seeing hundreds of thousands of moles over the years, I am better at recognizing melanoma than you are. That is my job. Come in and we will look at it, and if there is any question, take a biopsy for diagnosis.

So see your dermatologist or if I am your dermatologist, call us at 806-358-1117, 800-417-SKIN, or come by the office—Advanced Skin Treatment Center, Dr. Elaine Cook M.D., 7620 Hillside #100, Amarillo Texas, 79119.