In the Spotlight

Are You Protecting against Malignant Melanoma?

By Barbara Sinni-McKeehen, MSN, ARNP, DNC

What is malignant melanoma?

Malignant melanoma is a serious type of cancer which is found mostly in skin but also in the bowel and eye. It is one of the less common types of skin cancer but causes the majority of skin cancer related deaths.

Who can get melanoma?

Anyone can get melanoma regardless of age, sex or racial origin. There is a common misperception that only fair skinned individuals can get a melanoma. Dark skinned individuals also get melanoma.

What are the risk factors for developing melanoma?

The white race has the highest incidence: red or blond hair, light blue or green eyes, freckles, never tans or tans minimally.

  • Large number of moles (the average adult has about 40)
  • Large moles, (over 6 inches) present at birth, increase lifetime risk by 6-7 percent
  • A history of atypical (dysplastic) moles
  • Personal or family history of melanoma
  • Blistering sunburns
  • Use of tanning devices

What can I do to protect from melanoma?

Avoid mid day sun exposure. Apply sunscreen with broad spectrum coverage (UVA and UVB) 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every 2 hours and immediately after swimming. Wear a hat with a 3 inch brim that goes all the way around, long sleeves and long pants. Seek shade when possible. Do not sunbathe or use tanning beds. Sunless tanning lotions and sprays are safe to use if you wish to appear tanned. Do not forget to protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses.

What do I look for when checking my skin?

Check your skin once a month, looking for unusual new moles or changes in existing ones. Use mirrors to see your back, or have someone check for you. The A, B, C, D, E's of melanoma serve as a guide in examining skin lesions:
Asymmetry means that one side of the mole is a different shape than the other side.
Border is the outline of a mole. It should be sharp and regular.
Color of moles should be an even tone through-out the mole
Diameter refers to the size of the mole measured through the center. Moles larger than a pencil eraser should be checked.
Evolving means that a mole that has looked the same for years is changing in any of the above A, B, C, D's or that a flat mole is now raised, or itching is beginning.

Melanomas are frequently found by a spouse or friend. If someone tells you that a spot on your skin looks funny, it is a good idea to see your primary care provider to have it checked. To see an example of Melanoma click here.

Learn More

Moles (Medline Plus)

Lunares (Medline Plus) (en EspaƱol)

What You Need to Know About Moles and Dysplastic Anemia (National Cancer Institute)

Facts about Sunscreens (American Academy of Dermatology)

Barbara Sinni-McKeehen MSN, ARNP, DNC has been the NP in Bay Pines derm for almost 16 years and is on the center cancer committee due to her involvement with melanoma.

Updated/Reviewed: May 30, 2009

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