May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. So -- what makes Melanoma such a dangerous and unique cancer?
The answer is this: Melanoma kills young people who can be otherwise healthy. It doesn’t care if you are Black, White, Middle Eastern, Latina or Asian! That’s the dangerous part, and it’s unique because we can often see it with the naked eye, and it’s curable. So this is one cancer we should be talking about!
Let me get medical for a second: Melanocytes, the pigment cells on our skin, are actually made near the primitive spine of the embryo, and travel all the way to the skin. Once they reach the skin, they are in charge of producing the pigment in our skin, which you may have heard of - called melanin. Ethnic people produce more melanin, but everyone has melanocytes in about the same number.
So, what happens when these cute pigment-producing melanocytes go bad? The answer is the scariest type of skin cancer called melanoma! The same way those cells found their way to the skin as an embryo, they can start to spread its way back through the body and fill other organs with tumor cells.
There is a LOT we can do about melanoma. Here is what you can do to fight the good fight:
- Protect yourself and the people you love from the sun. UV rays can cause DNA damage to the melanocytes and turn them “bad” (cancerous). I’m not popular for saying “no tan is a healthy tan”, but it’s true! Slather SPF lotion on and find shade if you’re in the sun. Got a loved one? Remind them to do the same.
- Look at your body, especially any moles! Learn the ABCDE’s of melanoma and spot any new or changing moles: you’re looking for Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter and Evolving changes (for more detail on each of these, go here). Look at your loved ones too and share what you’ve learned. There are angles of their body that you can see (such as their back) that they simply can’t. If you check your bodies frequently, you’re more likely to notice changes as they happen, or a mark that wasn’t there before.
- Get a skin cancer check! A skin cancer check with an expert is quick and easy, and is part of a good health regimen. Have a qualified dermatologist look at your skin for any suspicious lesions and those “hard to reach” areas!
Melanoma is amazing in that it is 100% curable if diagnosed early and treated properly. Unfortunately, as we all know, most cancers don’t give us this chance. We have an opportunity here to catch this cancer before it can spread rapidly and leave the skin, or metastasize to another body part. Let’s catch melanoma while it will still respond to treatment. Or, as we say at MKF, let’s kick some mAss, shall we?!
Dr. Tanya Kormeili is an internationally recognized dermatologist practicing in Santa Monica. She is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and a proud supporter of mAss Kickers Foundation! Please visit www.DrTKDerm.com for more information on melanoma and how to prevent it.