Your skin is the body’s largest organ. Its purpose is to protect you from external threats, whether viruses, bacteria, dust, foreign objects, or other environmental dangers. Sadly, your skin is prone to exposure to things that can cause great harm, including skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and melanoma is one of the deadliest types, with nearly 10,000 people dying from it annually. It affects 1 in 50 Americans in their lifetime.
With those kinds of figures, it’s important to know if you’re at risk of this dangerous form of cancer. If you experience symptoms of melanoma or other skin conditions, Dr. Javier Zelaya and his skilled team at Skinworks Dermatology, with three New York City locations, can help.
What is melanoma?
This invasive form of skin cancer comes from melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin, which is responsible for skin color. A small percentage of melanoma cells start in moles (about 30%), but they more often affect normal skin.
Melanoma cells can be black, brown, pink, red, purple, or even the same color as your skin.
Signs of melanoma can be detected using the ABCDE method. This means checking:
- Asymmetry: Is one half of the mole unlike the other?
- Borders: Are the mole’s edges irregular or undefined?
- Color: Does the mole include several colors?
- Diameter: Is the mole bigger than the tip of a pencil eraser?
- Evolving: Is the mole changing in color, size, or shape?
You can develop melanoma anywhere on your body, but men frequently get it in their abdominal region (often the upper back) and women on their legs.
What causes melanoma?
Overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays is the most common cause of melanoma, accounting for 86% of cases. Overexposure can damage the DNA in skin cells, altering genes and causing them to proliferate. Tanning beds can cause similar damage to your skin.
Melanoma develops in stages:
0: Melanoma is still in the upper skin layer (epidermis)
I: Low-risk stage with no evidence of spread; treatable with surgery
II: Higher risk of occurrence, but still no evidence of spread
III: Spread to nearby skin or lymph nodes
IV: Spread to distant lymph nodes or skin and has penetrated internal organs
Early detection is key. If you’re at risk of melanoma, don’t hesitate to see Dr. Zelaya if you notice changes in your skin.
Who is most likely to get melanoma?
You might be at higher risk of melanoma if you have a high density of freckles or tend to develop freckles after time in the sun. Other risk factors include:
- A high number of moles
- Age spots
- Light skin that burns easily
- Family history of melanoma
- Overexposure to UV rays
- Red or light hair
- Weakened immune system
For many people, simply limiting direct exposure to UV rays and checking your body using the ABCDE method can lower your risk of melanoma or detect it early. Wearing protective clothing during the day when outside and avoiding tanning beds are good places to start.
Melanoma is dangerous and potentially fatal. If caught early enough, it can be treated. If you notice changes to your skin, make an appointment today at the Skinworks Dermatology location in Maspeth, Chelsea, or Park Slope to get it checked out. Call or book your visit online.