Dermatologist offers insight on how to identify melanoma

Since its inception in 1995 by the American Academy of Dermatology, the first Monday of May each year marks Melanoma Monday, initiating Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

This period serves as a global call to action to increase awareness about melanoma, a highly lethal skin cancer variant, urging individuals to inspect their skin for any unusual growths or marks.

Melanoma arises from the uncontrolled replication of melanocytes, the cells responsible for skin pigment, transforming them into cancerous cells.

The American Cancer Society highlights melanoma’s danger due to its potential for quick spread to other body areas. Depending on the melanoma type, this spread can occur in a matter of weeks or over many years.

Melanoma might form within an existing mole or emerge on previously unaffected skin. Although areas frequently exposed to the sun are more prone to melanoma, it can develop anywhere on the body.

“Melanoma doesn’t discriminate, but it poses a higher risk to individuals with lighter or less pigmented skin,” said Dr. Patrick Kehoe, a board-certified dermatologist at Aspirus. “The most avoidable risk factor is long-term, cumulative exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet light exposure, from sunlight or more hazardously from tanning beds, can induce cell mutations leading to melanoma.”

Monitoring for new or changing moles, spots that grow quickly, or alterations in existing skin marks is crucial.

Detecting melanoma early significantly diminishes the risk of it metastasizing to other body parts, potentially saving lives.

“Preventing melanoma effectively means protecting your skin from solar radiation,” Kehoe said. “I advocate using sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30, offering broad-spectrum protection. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, more so after swimming or perspiring, and consider wearing sun-protective clothing.”

Skin cancer, when identified early, is highly treatable. If you notice any new, unusual or evolving spots on your skin, or spots that itch or bleed, consult a board-certified dermatologist immediately.