I love my job as a dermatologist. But there is nothing I love about having to tell someone that they have melanoma. Despite the good prognosis when caught early, melanoma is a word that no one wants to hear.
So wouldn't it be great if no one had to hear it?
It's really important to realize that that IF melanoma is caught and treated early, it can be nearly 100% curable. When a melanoma is in situ (stage 0), it means that the melanoma is in the very very top layer of the skin and has not penetrated deeply. It is then removed surgically in the office under local anesthesia. Even melanomas that go a little bit deeper in the skin (stage 1, 2) often have a good prognosis and are treated with surgical excision. Melanomas that measure deeper need more testing (in addition to the surgical removal), such as lymph node testing and imaging. If a melanoma is deeper than that, then it is considered advanced and chemotherapy is added to the treatment regimen.
Early detection is the KEY. Any new, changing, itchy, bleeding, crusting mole needs to be evaluated asap by a dermatologist. Don't wait to see your doctor. With melanoma, the depth is the greatest predictor of survival. The earlier it is detected, the better. But once someone is diagnosed with melanoma, they have an increased risk of developing another one. And close monitoring by a dermatologist is needed for the rest of their life.
While genetics definitely plays a role in the development of melanoma, what is done on a daily basis makes a difference. Of course, sunburns are a big no no, which I think pretty much everyone knows. But any tan is a sign of sun damage, which increases the risk for melanoma. DON'T TAN - either in the salon or outdoors. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, indoor UV tanners are 74% more likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, than those who have never tanned indoors. "Oh, don't worry, Doc, my skin is naturally tanned." Really? Take a look at your buttocks. That is your real skin color. Still think you're naturally tanned? Slather on a physical blocker, at least an SPF 30, and reapply. Avoid the sun between 10 am - 4 pm, when the rays are strongest. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sun protective clothing. Stay in the shade. And teach your kids to do the same.
May is Melanoma Awareness month. Do yourself a favor and have your skin examined by a dermatologist. Encourage your friends and family to do the same. And let's make that word go away.