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Melanoma Awareness

As spring blooms and summer approaches, many look forward to spending more time outdoors, soaking up the sun’s warmth and enjoying outdoor activities. While embracing the joys of outdoor living is important, it’s equally crucial to remember the significance of protecting our skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, is one of the most severe skin conditions one can face. It develops in the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body.

Nine years ago, I took my son to the dermatologist and decided to throw in a quick checkup for me, too. Why not? It had been a while, and I kept putting it off. The doctor took a sample from a mole I had, but I did not think much about it. Soon, I received that dreaded call that I had melanoma. I was fortunate in that surgery was successful in removing all the cancer, and it had not spread anywhere else. As a result of my experience, I have regular checkups, and many of my family and friends have scheduled their appointments to have their checks done. This month was my annual checkup, and although I did not have any detection of melanoma, the doctor found basal cell carcinoma. Too much sun exposure when I was young has caused damage.

Here are several reasons why it’s imperative to get your skin checked for melanoma regularly:

  1. Early Detection Saves Lives: Melanoma is highly treatable if detected early. Regular skin checks allow dermatologists to identify suspicious moles or lesions that could indicate the presence of melanoma. When caught in its early stages, melanoma is often curable with simple procedures such as excision.
  2. Skin Cancer Risk Factors: Certain factors increase an individual’s risk of developing melanoma, including fair skin, a history of sunburns, a family history of melanoma, excessive sun exposure, and numerous moles or atypical moles (dysplastic nevi). If you have one or more of these risk factors, it’s especially crucial to be vigilant about getting regular skin checks.
  3. Changes Over Time: Moles and other skin lesions can change in appearance over time. Regular skin checks enable health care professionals to monitor these changes and determine whether they are benign or potentially malignant. Any new, changing, or suspicious growth should be promptly examined by a dermatologist.
  4. Peace of Mind: Knowing you’ve had a thorough skin examination can provide peace of mind. Even if no suspicious lesions are found during your skin check, you’ll have the reassurance that you’re taking proactive steps to protect your skin health.
  5. Educational Opportunity: Skin checks offer an opportunity for education and awareness. Your dermatologist can provide valuable information about skin cancer prevention, including sun protection strategies, the importance of sunscreen, and how to perform self-examinations at home.
  6. Regular Monitoring: For individuals with a history of melanoma or other types of skin cancer, regular skin checks are essential for ongoing monitoring and early detection of any recurrence or new cancerous growths. Your primary care provider (PCP) can also perform these checks.

Prioritizing regular skin checks is essential for maintaining healthy skin and reducing the risk of melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Make it a habit to schedule skin examinations with a dermatologist, and remember to wear sunblock, hats, and long sleeves to protect yourself from the Colorado sun. Even if you do, there may be damage from years past, as in my case. Your skin is your body’s largest organ—take care of it, and it will take care of you.