Monday Medical: Take 5 minutes to save your life; know the signs of melanoma |

Monday Medical: Take 5 minutes to save your life; know the signs of melanoma

Early detection of melanoma is key to treatment, survival

Maryann Wall

— Take five minutes to read this article.

Education about melanoma — a very dangerous form of skin cancer — leads to early detection and prevention, so keep your eyes focused here and scan the happy hour ads later. Early detection of melanoma is a key factor in improving patient survival. Preventing melanoma is even better.

Patients detect two-thirds of melanomas, while doctors detect only a third. That's not true for colon, lung or prostate cancer. Melanomas almost always are visible.

You have the opportunity to look at your skin more often than anyone else, so learn what to look for.

Studies have shown that individuals who review criteria — see the information box — and who review photos of melanomas are better able to detect melanomas.

Skin screening by a health care provider is associated with detection of thinner, more treatable melanomas. Individuals with risk factors for melanoma should be screened. Risk factors include a personal or family history of melanoma; numerous moles; a history of atypical moles; fair skin, red hair and blue eyes; indoor tanning; and a history of severe sunburns.

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Most screening involves visual detection and, sometimes, serial photographic documentation that can help detect changes throughout time. Newer techniques, such as dermoscopy, may improve accuracy of detecting melanomas.

Prevention is aided by two key factors: choosing parents well and keeping ultraviolet light off of skin. Obviously, people can control only one of these factors.

Avoid sun tanning and tanning beds.

Generously apply, daily, a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater. Look for zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or Helioplex in the active ingredients.

Reapply every two to four hours and after swimming or sweating. Be lavish in your application, or the benefit will be diminished.

Wear protective clothing with UPF 30+ fabric, along with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

Seek shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. — OK, that precaution might not be realistic.

But use extra caution near reflective surfaces such as water, snow and sand.

Tint glass windows to provide protection, especially if spending a lot of time in the car.

Get vitamin D safely, through a healthy diet including eggs and fish, and/or supplements. Don't bake with the excuse of needing your sunshine vitamin.

Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If something looks suspicious or you're at high risk, get screened.

Melanoma is one of a few cancers whose incidence continues to increase. Prevention and early detection can improve the frequency and survival rate associated with melanoma.

Our goal during Melanoma Awareness Month, in May, is to encourage local residents to protect themselves against this disease and to recognize what it looks like in its earliest stages.

Certainly that is worth the few minutes it has taken you to read this article. If you'd like to learn more, consider spending an hour with me at Yampa Valley Medical Center's Taking Care of Me program at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the hospital's Conference Room 1.

Then, take the melanoma awareness quiz on YVMC's website. Find the link at from Wednesday through May 18.

Maryann Wall, M.D., of Northwest Colorado Ear, Nose, Throat and Facial Plastic Surgery, PC, is board-certified in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and facial plastic and reconstructive surgery.

ABCs of melanoma

■ Asymmetry — half the lesion does not match the other half

■ Border irregularity — edges are notched, blurred, etc.

■ Color variation — pigment is not uniform; more than one color

■ Diameter — greater than 6mm

■ Evolving — changing

■ Ugly duckling — lesion looks different from the rest

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