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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Healthy Habits: Melanoma and Young Adults

Most people believe that skin cancer checks are just for those over 40, but the truth is melanoma is one of the most common forms of cancer for young adults aged 25 to 29 years old and second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 29.  Dr. Susana Ortiz, board certified dermatologist with a specialty in skin cancer who treats patients with early and advanced melanoma, in San Francisco, CA. I had a chance to interview her about melanoma and the importance of skin checks in young adults.  Dr. Susana Ortiz is also a physician spokesperson for the Melanoma Coalition.  

Why is melanoma one of the most common forms of cancer for young adults? 
Data suggest that the cause of melanoma in young adults may have a genetic/biological and behavioral features. It is known that being exposed to ultraviolet radiation is a risk factor for melanoma. Epidemiologic studies have shown association with a previous history of blistering sunburns, especially in childhood. Sunlamps and tanning beds are a source of UV radiation as well. Other risk factors for melanoma are having a fair complexion, blue or green eyes, red or blond hair, having several large moles or many moles, having unusual moles and family history of melanoma among others. 

How can young adults reduce their risk? 
Use broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen. Avoid staying in the sun for long periods of time, especially when the sun is at its strongest. Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look tan, consider using a self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it. Check your skin. If you notice anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist. Wear long pants, long sleeves and a sun hat when outdoors. 

Why is it important to be aware of skin changes? 
It is important to detect melanoma as soon as possible. Melanoma prognosis depends on tumor thickness. Treatment of melanoma early can mean the difference between life and a life-threatening disease. 

What in particular should people watch out for in terms of possible melanoma? 
Pay special attention to new moles or recently changing moles. Pay special attention to new growths or skin changes. Evaluate lesions for overall symmetry, borders, color, and size. Evaluate lesions in the context of the patient in whom they occur. One of the most sensitive ways to detect melanoma is to find the “ugly duckling” among their moles.

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