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More than Skin Deep: A Look at Melanoma

More than Skin Deep: A Look at Melanoma
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As you are probably well aware of, cancer can impact or spread to large swaths of your body. The brain, liver, lungs, pancreas, colon and stomach are all vulnerable to the ravages of this chronic and incurable disease. In addition, women and men each often fall victim to gender-related cancers. Breast cancer, for instance, is one of the biggest threats to the health of American women, whereas many men struggle with the effects of prostate cancer. With all these types of cancers afflicting the American populace, it can be easy to forget about melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. If not properly treated, this disease can have potentially lethal consequences.

Melanoma originates in the body’s melanocytes, the cells within the body that produce melanin. Melanin, of course, is the pigment that gives your skin its color. On rare occasions, melanoma can form in the eyes, and can even develop within the body.

A Growing Risk

To date, medical researchers have yet to fully unearth the definitive causes of melanoma. However, doctors generally believe that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can increase your chances of developing melanoma later in life. In addition, man-made UV rays from tanning beds have also been linked with an increased risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.

The growing popularity of tanning beds may explain the alarming rise in skin cancer diagnoses in women under 40. The Mayo Clinic Procedures, a journal published by the world-renown Mayo Clinic, examined the issue in a study published in early 2012. The Mayo Clinic focused on women in the 18 – 39 age bracket in Olmsted County, Minnesota.

The results Mayo Clinic Procedures study were very disconcerting. Since the 1970s, the rate of skin cancer has risen an astonishing 800 percent in women in their twenties and thirties. The same age group has also seen a 400 percent rise in cases of melanoma over the same timeframe. There is one silver lining from the Mayo Clinic report; the death rate from skin cancer actually declined amongst the study’s participants.

Keeping Your Skin Cancer-free

Melanoma is far from inevitable. In fact, you can dramatically lower your odds of contracting all forms of skin cancer by following some common-sense pieces of advice.

  • Limit your use of indoor tanning beds. According to one study, people who frequently use tanning beds are 74% more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer. Beginning tanners should only tan for 5 to 10 minute intervals, approximately three to four times per week. More experienced tanners can tan for up to 25 minutes at a time, and can tan up to four times during the course of the week.
  • When using a tanning bed, apply a small amount of SPF sunscreen.
  • If you like tanning in the sun, choose your tanning times carefully. As a general rule of thumb, try to strictly limit outside tanning from 10am to 4pm (you might consider avoiding sun tanning during this time period altogether).
  • Of course, giving up tanning altogether is the best preventative measure you can take to prevent skin cancer. Though your skin may look somewhat pale, the benefits of quitting tanning certainly outweigh its drawbacks.
  • As your mother probably told you growing up, sunscreen is very important during the summer months. The amount of protecting you receive from your sunscreen of choice depends on its SPF. Sunscreens that feature an SPF of at least 30 are usually a safe bet. In addition, make sure that the sunscreen you purchases shields you against both types of ultraviolet radiation, known as UVA and UVB rays.
  • Pay attention to the appearance of your skin. The relatively sudden appearance of new moles or changes in preexisting moles may indicate the development of skin cancer. If you notice the appearance of such blemishes on your skin, please consult with a health care professional.
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