Melanoma is most common in Caucasians; however the disease can affect men and women of all ages, races, and skin types. Melanoma is primarily diagnosed later in life, with the average age at 50 years old, although there has been a startling rise in incidence among the under-30 age group, especially among women.
While not all melanomas are preventable, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing the disease.
Regular Medical Exams
Getting regular professional skin examinations is always a good preventive measure. If your doctor suspects any new appearances to your skin, he or she may recommend a specialist.
Get to Know Your Skin
Self-exams are also recommended at least once a month, using a mirror to check hard-to-see places. Get to know all the areas of your skin, from the scalp, face, and neck to the chest, arms, legs, and soles of your feet. Being completely familiar with your body will help you notice if anything unusual appears. Contact your doctor immediately if you find any suspicious changes to your skin.
Protect yourself from the sunlight's damaging UV rays.
- Apply sunscreen and lip balm every day with an SPF 30 or higher (year-round).
- Avoid lying in the sun or using tanning devices.
- Limit your sun exposure:
- especially during the summer.
- during peak hours—between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.— when the sun is harshest.
- Wear protective clothing, including a hat and sunglasses.
- Seek the shade.
- Avoid getting sunburns.
Genetic testing may not provide the most useful results, and the ACS states that "most melanoma experts do not recommend genetic testing for people with a family history of melanoma at this time." Before making any decisions about pursuing genetic testing, speak with a genetic counselor to determine if testing is an option for you.
For anyone who has recovered from melanoma, it is crucial to follow preventive guidelines and watch closely for suspicious marks. Follow-up visits with your doctor are important to monitor your progress and watch for side effects from the treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, "a person who has had one melanoma may still be at risk for having another melanoma or a non-melanoma type of skin cancer. People cured of one melanoma should closely look at their skin every month and avoid too much sun."
The National Cancer Institute recommends scheduling check-ups approximately every three to six months for the first couple of years following treatment for melanoma. Additionally, it is highly recommended that you give yourself skin exams at home, in a well-lit area. With the aid of mirrors, you want to examine existing birthmarks and look for anything new. Signs to look for include:
- new (different-looking) mole
- new color or flakiness around an existing mole
- new flesh-colored bump
- new appearance to existing moles (size, color, shape, texture)
- new sore that will not heal
Checking your skin on a regular basis helps you stay in control when it comes to your health. It's important to take a proactive approach and be familiar with your body—this can help in the event that anything new and unusual appears. Alert your doctor immediately if you find anything that looks suspicious.