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Melanoma Monday

Melanoma Monday raises awareness for melanoma and other skin cancers and encourages early detection of melanoma through self-exams. Designated by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), it takes place on the first Monday in May, during Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and of those who have it, more than a million have melanoma. There are almost 200,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in the United States each year, and its rate in the country doubled from 1982 to 2011 and has continued to rise since. Melanoma can affect anyone, but Caucasians and men over the age of 50 are most at risk. However, it is often detected in later stages in people with skin of color, so they are less likely to survive it. Before the age of 50, women are more likely to get it, but by age 65, rates are twice as high for men, and by 80 they are three times as high. One in 27 men gets it in their lifetime, while the rates are 1 in 40 for women. It is the second highest common cancer in females between the ages of 15-29, and between 1970 and 2009, melanoma in women between the ages of 18-39 went up by 800%. These rates may be reflective of increases in indoor tanning.

Almost 20 Americans die from melanoma each day, and most skin cancer deaths are from melanoma. If treated before spreading to the lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 99%. Regional stage melanoma has a 5-year survival rate of 64%, while distant-stage melanoma has a 5-year survival rate of 23%.

Being exposed to ultraviolet light is a risk factor for all skin cancers, and most cases of melanoma can be attributed to it. Increased intermittent sun exposure—when someone is usually out of the sun, but are then in it for short, intense periods—can increase skin cancers, including melanoma. Repeated blistering sunburns at a young age can greatly increase the chances of melanoma later in life, and tanning beds greatly increase the chance of disease as well. Other risk factors for skin cancer, including melanoma, include having blond or red hair, having skin that burns easily, having excessive sun exposure, having a weakened immune system, having more than 50 moles, and having a family history of melanoma.

The AAD says that avoiding ultraviolet rays is the best way to reduce the risk of melanoma. This can be done by avoiding tanning beds, staying in the shade, wearing protective clothing, and wearing a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. It is especially important to shield children from the sun, so they don't get sunburned. Some warning signs of melanoma include changes in the shape, color, or size of moles and skin lesions; a sore that doesn't heal; or new growth on the skin. If any of these are found, a board-certified dermatologist should be visited. Skin self-exams should be done on a regular basis. In fact, about half of melanoma is self-detected.

How to Observe Melanoma Monday

Here are a few ideas on how to celebrate the day:

  • Wear orange. The American Academy of Dermatology has encouraged people to wear orange to raise awareness for melanoma and skin cancer.
  • Do a self-examination of your skin. The AAD has provided an infographic on how to spot skin cancer.
  • Find a location that does free skin cancer screenings.
  • Find a board-certified dermatologist near you. A dermatologist should be visited yearly.
  • Make sure you are doing things to reduce your risk of melanoma, such as wearing sunscreen, avoiding too much exposure to the sun, and staying away from tanning beds.
  • Encourage others to do all of the above things.

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