Friday, June 12, 2009

Melanoma - The Bare Facts

As a physician who blogs, and blogger who occasionally doctors, I have been asked to write an educational blog on melanoma. Nothing brings you as close to reality as being a physician, so here goes.

The bare facts are these.

• Too much sun – or too much exposure to tanning lamps and tanning beds – usually precedes a melanoma.

• Severe sunburns, even when young, enormously increase the risk of a melanoma later in life.

• Melanomas most often occur on bare skin surfaces exposed to the sun or to tanning procedures.

• These bare skin areas are the head and neck, the chest and back, the abdomen, and arms and legs.

• Melanomas usually originate in a pigmented mole.

• The mole changes – it may become darker, grows, develops an irregular edge, or even ulcerates.

• Melanoma develop locally but may spread to other parts of the body, even leading to death.

• Melanomas are best caught early, when they are resectable and when nearby lymph nodes can be removed.

• Melanoma may occur at any age, even in young people who tend to be sun-loving and who regard a tan as glamorous.

A tan may seem glamorous, but it is also dangerous. The tabloids and TV may picture George Hamilton and Hollywood starlets sporting a golden tan as glamorous but don’t be misled. Too much sun or too many ultraviolet rays from tanning machines ages the skin, creates crow’s feet around the eyes, creates wrinkles, may lead to leathery skin at an early age, and often is the forerunner to melanomas.

So, to avoid melanoma, don a hat, wear sunglasses, use strong sun screen, wear a shirt and long pants, watch your skin for changes in moles, and stay out of the mid-day sun. The sun is the skin’s worst enemy, and a tan is a sign that the enemy is at work. The world’s best complexions and most beautiful skin occurs in Scandinavia, not in Southern California or South Beach.


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