Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hide and Seek May Save Your Life! - Searching for Melanoma

Warren Zevon. Bob Marley. Christie Hennessy. John McCain. Maureen Reagan. Danny Federici. All victims. Melanoma has no favorites and none of us is immune.

In fact, melanoma is increasing so radically that it has become a leading cancer. Increasing exposure to sun, and perhaps the chemicals in our food, air, water, our whole environment?
Here;s the bad news. In 1935 melanoma hit only 1 of every 1,500 US inhabitants. Since then the rate has skyrocketed 5-7 percent per year.

Actually, the true incidence of melanoma is believed much higher--- because, thankfully, many skin lesions are being found, and destroyed by freezing, laser ablation, and other methods (where biopsy confirmation isn't reported).

The good news, if any? That many melanoma are being found, because they can be treated--- if caught in time!

But melanoma are sneaky. They can occur anywhere on your body (anywhere that melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells of the body, are found).

Hide and Seek--- how to search for possible melanoma? How do you protect yourself and your loved ones?

You have to search, and search regularly. Think of skin as a landscape. You need to search all the rifts and valleys and hidden hollows of that landscape, including the forest where hair grows and something can hide.

Melanomas arising in the skin are referred to as cutaneous melanomas. They can grow from an existing mole. They can also develop in a spot that always looked normal.

Some people mistakenly believe melanomas strike light-skinned victims only. Wrong. The great poet-singer Bob Marley was doomed by a melanoma hidden among his toes.

On males, the trunk is the most common source of melanoma. On females its the arms and legs. But be thorough. Ask your spouse of friend or partner for help, and inspect each other in those hard-to-see places. Use a hand mirror if necessary.

Here are the stats on skin-site frequency, taken from victims of active melanoma---

Head and neck

Chest, abdomen, and back




1. Is the lesion pigmented or non-pigmented? Pigmented lesions are usually brown or black and are more worrisome for melanoma than non-pigmented lesions.

2. Is the lesion suspicious for malignancy or cancer? Many doctors will have experience looking at skin lesions and may be able to tell you what the problem is by simple inspection.

3. Should I see a dermatologist? A dermatologist is a doctor who has additional training in diseases of the skin and may be better equipped to identify difficult lesions. Many dermatologists are also trained in the treatment of skin cancers.

4. Do I need a biopsy? A biopsy is the only way to be certain of what the lesion is. It must be examined by a trained pathologist with experience in skin diseases. Always ask that your doctor review the pathology report with you after any biopsy procedure.

5. Is my family at risk for developing a skin lesion or cancer? Some types of skin cancer, especially melanoma, may be more common in close relatives. If your doctor believes that you have this type of cancer, it may be helpful to have close family members (parents, children, and siblings) see a dermatologist for a routine examination or screening so that lesions can be detected as early as possible.

Take nothing for granted.

If in doubt, consult a professional. Don't be shy.

Melanoma can spread rapidly. And it will have no mercy!

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