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Melanoma: Detection and Prevention

September 9, 2021

Trivia: Did you know Bob Marley died of melanoma?

People often associate melanoma with lighter-skinned people, however anyone is susceptible because melanoma develops in skin cells that cause color. In the case of Bob Marley, this beloved singer was diagnosed at 32 and died at 36 because he did not follow the treatment prescribed by his doctors.  Over the course of 4 years, the melanoma that originally developed under his big toenail spread to his stomach, lungs and brain.

Bob Marley had a type of melanoma called Acral-lentiginous melanoma, which is rare and develops under finger and toe nails.  This type of melanoma is called a “hidden melanoma” because it develops in places that one normally doesn’t think to look. Hidden melanomas are generally found in darker skinned people. Other hidden melanomas are Mucosal melanoma and ocular melanoma.  Mucosal melanoma will develop in the mouth, digestive tract, vagina or urinary tract while the ocular melanoma develops in the eye. Both are very difficult to diagnose.

Detection of Melanoma

There are 2 main ways to detect Melanoma:

  1. Give yourself regular skin checks. Identify new growths or changes in your moles, freckles or other markings on your skin (shape, color and size). Melanoma has no preference where it grows, so it is important that if this is your detection method, you check EVERYWHERE consistently. Scalp, armpits, soles of your feet and yes, just like Bob Marley, your toes. Snap pictures so you can compare from exam to exam.
  2. Get friendly with your dermatologist. Here’s a little snapshot of Larissa’s leg a couple of weeks ago. She was blessed with a large amount of moles, and therefore goes to the dermatologist every 3 months for a mole check. Even though she is religious about sunscreen and staying in the shade, this is the second time she had a wider margin removed after having a mole biopsied.  This is someone who takes skin care very seriously – and yet… there you go. Melanoma can happen to anyone so make friends with your dermatologist and make an appointment for a yearly skin check.

Prevention of Melanoma and other Skin Cancers

In line with what we mentioned above, a great prevention method is simply having an annual skin check so your doctor can remove anything unusual before it turns into something bad. Other things everyone should practice for skin health and protection:

  • Avoid sun exposure at peak times – primarily between 10am-4pm if you live in North America. When it is the hottest out, that is when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest AND most damaging. Limit outside activity to the am or pm if possible.
  • Sunscreen!  Have we ever mentioned this before? People tend to be relatively good about applying and reapplying sunscreen during the summer, when it is hot outside, but tend to slack off a little in the winter. But if the sun is out, even in the winter, you will be causing lasting damage to your skin if you aren’t protecting it.
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves when outside. Sunscreen is just that – a screen. It helps prevent sun damage but it doesn’t completely block the UV rays from reaching your skin. Your best bet is to invest in a nice, fashionable wide-brimmed hat for those days when you will be in the sun more than 20 minutes. These types of hats completely shade your face as opposed to a baseball cap that only shields the forehead and eye area. Long sleeved shirts made of SPF fabric are ideal for long term sun exposure. Shirts can be laundered and worn many times, sunscreen is expensive and sticky if you are sweating! And if you have that bikini you just must simply show off to the world – do it sitting under a nice shade umbrella. Your skin will thank you.
  • Tanning beds. Eek it hurts to even write that. Do we even need to say this?  Ok here goes: AVOID TANNING BEDS. Don’t just avoid them – just don’t go. If you want that nice tan look, get some great self tanner and learn how to apply it.  Otherwise embrace your un-tanned skin and be happy knowing that you are being as healthy as possible.

Melanoma is bad BUT it is preventable in a lot of cases and detectable at early stages. If you or anyone you know has any other questions, please let us know.

 

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