What You Should Know About Melanoma
- Zara Thomas knew her paleness made her more susceptible to moles, but when one on her stomach kept changing and scabbing over, she got it checked out. What she thought was eczema was a skin cancer called melanoma.
- Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color. The disease can develop from an existing mole or appear as a dark or pink growth on the skin even in places on the body that never see the sun. It’s also known to be the deadliest form of skin cancer.
- Now 35, Thomas is warning others to take steps to protect themselves. Doctors recommend regularly applying sunscreen, covering exposed skin and avoiding tanning beds as basic precautions.
Zara Thomas always knew her pale complexion resulted in having a few moles but there was one on her stomach that she noticed changing and scabbing over.Read More
“I went from initially thinking I had eczema to undergoing intensive surgery,” she told Wales Online. “Thankfully tests on my lymph nodes came back clear and after having five more moles removed over the next five years, I was discharged during the COVID pandemic.”
What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color.
The disease can develop from an existing mole or appear as a dark or pink growth on the skin even in places on the body that never see the sun. It’s also known to be the deadliest form of skin cancer.
“Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body,” explains Dr. Anna Pavlick, a medical oncologist with Weill Cornell Medicine who specializes in treating skin cancer.
Keeping an eye on the moles or growths on your skin is an easy way to keep an eye out for melanoma. Changes to a mole you’ve had for a while or developing a new growth you don’t remembering having on your skin could be signs of this cancer, according to SurvivorNet’s experts.
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Dr. Cecilia Larocca of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute gives SurvivorNet an overview of things to look out for with moles using the ABCDE self-screening method:
- Asymmetrical moles: “If you drew a line straight down the center of the mole, would the sides match?”
- Borders that are “irregular, jagged, not smooth.” It can also stand for bleeding.
- Colors: “Multiple distinct colors in the mole.”
- Diameter: “Larger than 6mm, about the size of a pencil head eraser.”
- Evolution: “This may be the most important,” she says. “Anything that is changing over time such as gaining color, losing color, painful, itching, hurting, changing shape, etc.”
- Spots on our skin are often harmless, but it’s still important to keep an eye on them and reach out to your doctor if you see any changes or find a growth anywhere on your skin that looks suspicious.
Protecting Yourself from Melanoma
Ninety percent of melanomas are caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This means excessive time in the sun – even as a child – puts you at a higher risk.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Dendy Engelman from MDCS Dermatology in New York shared the top five things you can do to avoid skin cancer:
- Avoid sun during peak hours, which is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the tops of our heads, the tops of our ears and the delicate area around the eye.
- Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and make sure to reapply every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming.
- Have yearly skin checks (with a professional), because it’s difficult to evaluate areas all over the body.
- Avoid tanning beds. There are no “good” tanning beds, and they can significantly increase your risk of melanoma.
Top 5 Ways To Protect Yourself From Skin Cancer
Helping To Spread Awareness
Now 35, Thomas is urging others to take precautions so they don’t have to go through what she went through. Her partner Adam Stiles, 29, also recently had a mole on his stomach tested, though results came back negative.
“It’s really spurred me on to want to help others and spread the word about skin cancer prevention and early detection too. It could make all the difference, so I always encourage people to be safe in the sun and see their GP if they notice any unusual changes to their skin,” she said. “I hope I can encourage people to think about their sun habits and take precautions. Sunburn doesn’t just happen abroad or on summer holidays. It can happen in the United Kingdom, even on a cloudy day. It’s tempting to want to make the most of warm weather, but getting sunburned increases your chance of getting skin cancer – so it’s really important that people take care. Now I try and spend some time out of the sun, wear a hat, make sure my shoulders are covered and that I’ve got my sunscreen with me.”