Melanoma is a cancer that starts in the DNA of melanocytes; the cells responsible for your hair and skin’s colour. When their DNA is damaged, it causes the cells to grow uncontrollably leading to a malignant tumour.
The damage can be inherited through genetic mutations, but it’s often accumulated over time as a result of environmental factors like UV radiation.
Excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) from the sun and sunbeds plays a leading role in the development of melanoma and is the most preventable cause of this disease. Experts estimate about 90% of melanomas are associated with severe UV exposure and sunburns over a lifetime.
You can learn more about the Basics of Melanoma here, or scroll to the bottom of the page for other suggested reading.
The lifetime risk of melanoma for Canadian men is now 1 in 74. For Canadian women, it’s 1 in 90. In comparison, the lifetime risk of melanoma for Americans in 1930 was 1 in 1500.
Melanoma is one of a handful of cancers where the incidence in Canadians continues to increase.
The death rate for men with melanoma continues to rise.
That’s why it’s so important for you to check your skin and watch for any signs that this cancer might be developing.
Follow what dermatologists call the Ugly Duckling Rule – if you notice a mole or skin lesion that looks out of place or feels different from the others, get some medical advice.
If you’re going to be checking your moles regularly to keep an eye on them (which we hope you are) there are several common kinds of changes that are often associated with the development of melanomas. It’ll be helpful to familiarize yourself with the ABCDEs of Melanoma, so that you know what changes should definitely sound the alarm.
Checking your own moles is simple and straightforward – just download our How To Check instructions to get started.
Remember, some people are more likely to develop melanoma because of certain risk factors – but anyone can be affected by this disease. People with no risk factors, and those with darker skin, can also get melanoma and should be checking regularly too.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR SKIN
The good news is that you can reduce your risk of melanoma by protecting your skin from UV rays.
All year round, take care to SLIP, SLAP, SLOP, SEEK and SLIDE when you are outside.
SLIP on some long clothing that protects your arms and legs.
SLOP on sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
SLAP on a wide brimmed hat.
SLIDE on sunglasses.
Take extra care between 11am and 4pm when the sun rays are strongest or when the UV Index is 3 or higher.
Please don’t use indoor tanning equipment. Using tanning beds and lamps exposes you to UV rays 5 times stronger than the sun and significantly increases your risk of developing melanoma.
The David Cornfield Melanoma Fund also recommends these sites for information on melanoma and related topics.
What you need to know about melanoma and other skin cancers. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/skin. Accessed October 21, 2013
Parkin DM, Mesher D, P Sasieni. Cancers attributable to solar (ultraviolet) radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer. 2011; 105:S66-S69.
Canadian Dermatology Association, Skin Hair Nails/Skin/Skin Cancer/Malignant Melanoma http://www.dermatology.ca/skin-hair-nails/skin/skin-cancer/malignant-melanoma Accessed October 21, 2013
Cancer Council Australia, Preventing Skin Cancer http://www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sun-protection/preventing-skin-cancer/ Accessed October 21, 2013