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Melanoma (also called malignant melanoma) is the deadliest type of skin cancer affecting cells that give color to the skin. It may begin in or near a mole that changes in color, shape, or size. It may become painful, start to bleed, or itch. A sudden, new growth can also be a melanoma.
A melanoma can be almost any color, including tan, brown, black, gray, white, red, or blue. Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, but they're most common on areas exposed to the sun, such as the upper back, head, neck, face, trunk, or lower legs. If caught and treated early, the chances for cure are very high. But it's dangerous if the cancer spreads to another part of the body.
You're at higher risk to get melanoma if:
* you're age 50 or older
* you're fair-skinned or freckled, with blue or green eyes and blonde or red hair
* you work outside in the sun
* your skin gets sunburned easily and doesn't tan
* you've had bad sunburns in the past, even as a child
* you have many, large, or unusual-looking moles
* you or a close relative has had a melanoma or another type of skin cancer
* you have a weakened immune system.
If your healthcare provider suspects melanoma, some tissue will be removed to examine under a microscope (biopsy). Your healthcare provider may also test a lymph node or order other tests to learn if the melanoma has spread to other parts of your body.
Your healthcare provider will discuss the best treatment for you based on your test results. If the melanoma is caught early, it can be removed by surgery. If the melanoma is deep, or has spread to lymph nodes, you may also need additional treatment such as chemotherapy (drugs to kill cancer cells) or radiation therapy. You'll need lifelong regular checkups with your healthcare provider to make sure the melanoma doesn't come back and that you don't have any new skin cancers.
Check for any skin changes at least once a month, using good lighting, a full-length mirror, a hand mirror, and a magnifying glass, if necessary. Remember to check your scalp and other areas that you can't see, including your back, or have a family member check for you.
The ABCDE method can help you spot problems:
* Asymmetry. One half of a mole doesn't match the other.
* Borders. Melanoma usually has irregular edges.
* Color. Melanoma can be almost any color, and the color will be different from one area of the mole to another.
* Diameter. Melanoma is usually bigger than a pencil eraser.
* Evolving. Look for a mole that looks different from other moles or one that's changing.
Limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are strongest and avoid tanning beds or lying out in the sun to get a tan.
If you must be out in the sun, wear clothes that protect you: wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays.
About 30 minutes before going outside, apply a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher. Try to use a sunscreen that blocks both types of ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB; look for this information on the sunscreen package) and reapply it every 2 hours and after swimming. Remember to protect your skin in winter, too, because snow can reflect damaging sunrays.
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