Is That a Mole or Melanoma?

By Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Juliana really enjoyed going to tanning salons. She went often to bronze her porcelain skin. She thought her dark tan accentuated her green eyes.

And then she noticed a mole. A dermatologist friend thought the mole looked “slightly suspicious” and suggested Juliana schedule a doctor’s visit as soon as possible.

Her dermatologist took a biopsy of the mole and sent it in for testing. Juliana never expected the results to be anything serious. But weeks later, she got unexpected news. To the shock of those around her, she was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma, the most advanced and dangerous form of skin cancer.

Juliana couldn’t believe the news. She never had any symptoms or felt ill. She was in tip-top shape; you might have even called her a gym rat.

Unfortunately, her cancer therapy did not stop the cancer. It spread to vital organs, and she died several months after her diagnosis. She was only 42.

Melanoma Doesn’t Have to Kill

Juliana’s story is true and represents a growing reality: Many young people die of melanoma each year. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that approximately 9,000 people will die from it in the United States in 2012 alone.1

Fortunately, melanoma is one of the most curable forms of cancer. When caught early, it is virtually 100% curable.2 Melanoma is caused by changes in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce melanin, which pigments the skin.

Melanoma affects people of all races, but is more common among fair skinned individuals. However, this deadly disease does not show favoritism - it kills indiscriminately.

To reverse these deadly trends, the focus first must be on prevention.

Stopping Melanoma Before it Starts

Check your skin … regularly. Get familiar with your skin and note any unusual changes. Pay attention to your moles. Have they gotten any darker, changed shape or grown within the last year?

Women tend to develop melanoma on their legs and men on their back. But don’t forget to also check the soles of your feet, your nails, and the space between your toes. Women need to check between their breasts as well.

Remember your ABCDs. It’s an acronym to help the screening process. Let’s take a look at each one:

  • Asymmetry of a mole: Does one half of the mole look like the other?
  • Border: Inspect the mole for ragged, blotched or blurred edges.
  • Color: Be aware of black or multicolored moles. Has your mole changed color over time?
  • Diameter: Pay particular attention to moles greater than 6 mm wide.
A suspicious looking mole requires a visit to the dermatologist. Unless, of course, you’re at higher risk for melanoma — things like family history of melanoma and several irregular moles, tons of sun exposure with sunburns and, you may not like this, use of tanning beds. In these cases, yearly screenings are essential.

How Else Can You Protect Against Melanoma?

Apart from using sunscreen, avoiding sunlight in the afternoon, and wearing protective clothing, consider the following foods or dietary supplements:

  1. Polypodium leucotomos, a fern from Central America, has been shown to protect the skin from UV ray damage. According to clinical studies, supplementing with the herb may decrease your risk of sunburn.3
  2. Vitamin D research is showing it may help to protect against the development and recurrence of melanoma.4,5
  3. Green tea inhibits melanoma cell proliferation in cell culture and animal studies.6,7
  4. Vitamin E forms part of the skin’s natural barrier, kind of like built-in sunscreen.8
We can no longer afford to ignore melanoma. Since the 1980’s, melanoma rates have tripled and will probably continue to grow. This is especially true today because of the growing trend of sun-worshipping.

Perhaps instead of trying to fit in with the crowd, we should just embrace our natural skin color? After all, every skin shade is beautiful and taking measures to protect your skin should be a top priority.

Risking your life to fit into a fleeting model of beauty which may be null in 20 years is probably a bad idea. As always, your health is more important!

References:

  1. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/melanoma
  2. Available at: http://ow.ly/cXEO7 
  3. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004 Dec;51(6):910-8.
  4. J Clin Oncol. 2009 Nov 10;27(32):5439-44.
  5. Anticancer Res. 2006 Jul-Aug;26(4A):2551-6.
  6. PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e25224. Epub 2011 Oct 13.
  7. Biol Pharm Bull. 2010 Jan;33(1):117-21.
  8. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 1997;6(1):63-7.

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