AS PEOPLE now head for sunny beaches in some parts of the world and suntan lamps in other areas, they should heed the warning given by the ACS (American Cancer Society).
“Overexposure to the sun,” says the ACS, is by far the most common cause of skin cancer. Who are the most at risk? Although no one is immune to the damaging effect of the sun, an ACS leaflet, Fry Now. Pay Later., warns “sunbathers who deliberately expose themselves to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.” It says: “People who sunburn easily and have fair skin with red or blond hair are most prone to develop skin cancer.” And the risk is higher in places where there is intense year-round sunshine.
Of the 450,000 new cases of skin cancer reported each year in the United States, approximately 22,000 cases are diagnosed as malignant melanoma—the least common but most serious of the major skin cancers—which begins in skin cells that produce the dark pigment called melanin. Melanomas may begin in or near a mole. They are characterized by a brown or black color and have the strong tendency to spread to other parts of the body.
How does one distinguish between a normal mole and a melanoma? Although the only way to know for certain is to see your physician, the booklet Why You Should Know About Melanoma, published by the ACS in cooperation with the American Academy of Dermatology, lists four “ABCD” warning signs of melanoma: Asymmetry (one half does not match the other half), Border Irregularity (the edges are ragged, notched, or blurred), Color (pigmentation is not uniform), and Diameter is greater than 1/4 inch (6 mm) (any sudden or continuing increase in size should be of special concern).
If the disease is detected early enough, chances for cure are good. Better still, emphasizes the ACS, most skin cancer can be prevented simply by using good sense and avoiding the hot midday sun, by using sunscreens at the beach or pool, and by covering up.