Although most skin cancers are the results of cumulative years of sun exposure, melanoma impacts young adults too.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma is the second most common type of cancer diagnosed in 15- to 19-year-olds, and the most common form of cancer affecting young adults between the ages of 25 and 29.
Dr. Rahul Chavan, a Sacred Heart Medical Group dermatologist and Moh’s surgeon, says the lifestyle choices young individuals establish during their teen years and early 20s can increase their chances of developing melanoma.
“People who habitually tan during adolescence and young adulthood have a higher risk of developing melanoma skin cancer later on in life,” he explains. “Sustaining just five sunburns as a teenager can make an adult 80 percent more likely to develop melanoma during their lifetime.”
With Florida dubbed the Sunshine State, it should come as no surprise that it has the second highest rate of melanoma cases in the country.
Chavan says the biggest risk factors associated with melanoma are sun exposure and pale skin.
“Melanoma is the most aggressive and deadliest kind of skin cancer,” Chavan says. “When caught early, melanoma has a five-year survival rate of 96 percent. If detected after the disease has spread, the survival rate drops sharply to 16 percent."
Coupled with yearly skin exams by a primary care doctor, self-exams are the best way to detect early stages of skin cancer. Once a month, perform a visual examination of your skin when you get out of the shower or when you’re getting undressed. Look for any new or changing lesions on your skin.
The letters ABCDE can help your remember the characteristics of unusual moles that may indicate melanomas or other skin cancers.
- A is for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles with irregular shapes.
- B is for irregular border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or scalloped borders — characteristics of melanomas.
- C is for changes in color. Look for growths that have many colors or an uneven distribution of color. Changes in the surface of a mole – scaliness, oozing, bleeding or a new bump or nodule.
- D is for diameter. Look for new growth in a mole larger than 1/4 inch (about 6 millimeters).
- E is for evolving. Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows in size or that changes color or shape. Moles may also evolve to develop new signs and symptoms, such as new itchiness, tenderness, bleeding or pain.
If you notice one or more of the warning signs, see your primary care doctor right away, Chavan says. For more information about skin cancer, please call 850-416-1345 or visit sacred-heart.org/library/skin-cancer.