A diagnosis that often inspires fear and dread, melanoma provides good cause for concern. The most deadly form of skin cancer, it's responsible for 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths. However, it is largely curable if detected and treated early. Learning the risk factors and minimizing the chances of developing the disease through early detection and sun-safe habits is key, according to the cancer experts at NewYork-Presbyterian.
The risk factors for melanoma go far beyond the traditional blue eyes, freckles and history of sun exposure. They also include:
- Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from sunlight or tanning beds
- A history of blistering sunburns as a teenager or young child
- Fair or freckling skin, red or blond hair, green or blue eyes
- More than 50 moles or atypical moles (larger than normal or varied in shape or color)
- A family history of melanoma
- A previous melanoma or skin cancer such as basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma
- A weakened immune system
- A history of other cancers such as breast or thyroid cancer
To catch melanoma in its early, most treatable stages, examine your skin once a month to detect any changes in its appearance. Problematic moles possess the following traits, known as the ABCDEs:
- (B)order irregularity
- (C)olor change
- (D)iameter greater than 6 mm, or the size of a pencil eraser
- (E)volving mole that is changing in size, shape or color
It’s also important to examine skin which is frequently exposed to the sun, as well as the palms of the hands, fingernail beds, soles of the feet, genital areas and the skin between toes and under your arms. If something looks suspicious, immediately seek the advice of a dermatologist.
Schedule regular skin exams with a dermatologist, who can also find skin cancer before it becomes an issue. He or she can make an individual recommendation as to how often you need an exam, based on your personal risk factors for melanoma and skin cancer.
Healthy sun protection habits should begin at a young age, before the sun’s rays have a chance to damage the skin. During daylight hours, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of at least 30 and reapply regularly during hours of exposure. Always wear a hat, sunglasses and protective clothing when in the sun.
NewYork-Presbyterian’s (NYP) Cancer Centers provide high-quality, comprehensive cancer care at convenient locations throughout the New York metropolitan area, Westchester and the Lower Hudson Valley in state-of-the-art, comfortable environments. Board certified medical oncologists collaborate with a multidisciplinary team to provide each patient with an individualized plan of care. To find a location in your area visit nyp.org/cancer.
NewYork-Presbyterian is one of the largest and most comprehensive hospitals in the nation, ranked New York’s No. 1 hospital for the 16th consecutive year, and No. 6 in the United States, according to U.S. News and World Report. Affiliated with two academic medical colleges – Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medicine -- NewYork-Presbyterian brings together internationally recognized researchers and clinicians to develop and implement the latest approaches for prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center is one of only three NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in New York State. NewYork-Presbyterian provides comprehensive cancer care at all of our locations across the New York Metro area including Westchester County and the Hudson Valley. Learn more at nyp.org/cancer.