Melanoma - Steps To Prevention and What to Expect If Diagnosed
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It is caused by too much ultra-violet light exposure to the skin. This can be from the sun or from tanning beds. It can be a very serious and life threatening if not found early and treated. Once it spreads to other parts of the body it can be very difficult to treat. If you spend any amount of time in the sun or tanning beds it is a very good idea to give yourself an occasional all over skin exam. The myth that only fair skinned light haired people get melanoma is just that – a myth. Take it from someone who has black hair, brown eyes, and medium skin. I was diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 22. If I had not paid attention to a mole that had changed on my back, I could be dead today. Because of my experience, I would like to share some things to look for and things to do to keep yourself cancer free. I will include a very good link at the bottom in the article that will give detailed information on what to look for and diagnosis. My intent is to give you simple terms you can relate to and make it simple. Melanoma is very easy to prevent but not so easy to get rid of once you have it.
There Are Many Types of Sunscreens Out There To Choose From
Sunscreen Is Your Friend in the Prevention of Melanoma
Most dermatologists would like to tell you to stay out of the sun altogether. That may not be so easy to do depending on your lifestyle. If you do spend time in the sun then the simple thing to do is apply sunscreen. Applying at least an SPF15 to exposed areas of your skin when outside can prevent sun damage and more serious things like Melanoma. This goes not only in the summer but also in the winter months. There are many facial moisturizers out there today that have an SPF15 built into them already. When making your skin care choices, use those that provide an SPF protection. For those that spend time in tanning beds, please stop. I know, I loved them too. Unfortunately this is how I got Melanoma at such a young age. To this day I wish I could go lay in the tanning bed because it did make me feel better about myself having that all over glow. But it is just not worth it. At least do it in moderation if you are a tanning bed lover. Wearing sunscreen, avoiding tanning beds, and staying out of the sun during the most damaging times of the day (1PM – 4PM) can help prevent you from getting this very serious skin cancer.
Melanoma Skin Exam
Giving yourself a complete skin exam periodically is necessary to make sure there are no suspicious moles on your body. All you have to do is look over your body and take note of the moles and what they look like. If any have changed from the last time you looked, it may be a good idea to visit your doctor. It is not a waste of time! This is how I found the mole on my back to be Melanoma. I had seen it over a period of a few months starting to change. It's shape became distorted and it started to get bigger. It was not a raised mole or even nasty looking. It was about the size of the top of a pencil eraser and very dark to begin with. As time went on it started to change to different colors of brown and black with the distorted shape. It is very important to know your body and keep up with the way your moles look. Sounds crazy but you don't know how important this is. It is something quick you can do before jumping in the shower once a month. Use the mirror for areas you can not easily see. Just so you know, areas between your toes, bottom of your feet, and the genital areas are very common for melanoma. Not sure how or why but they are. So look everywhere! If going to a dermatologist for a complete skin exam, you can expect to strip off completely naked and get checked everywhere too. But you can do this yourself until you find suspicious areas that warrant a trip to the dermatologist.
What To Do If You See A Suspicious Mole? Is it Melanoma?
If you notice moles that are changing on your body, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or directly with a dermatologist if you can without seeing your primary care first. I hesitate to see anyone other than a dermatologist only because my primary care doctor told me that my mole looked fine and did nothing. I made an appointment the next day on my own without his referral with a dermatologist. I am very glad I did or I may not be alive today. So if you feel in your heart something is not right and you don't get the support of your primary care doctor, please still make an appointment with the dermatologist. Once you get in to see a dermatologist they will most likely perform a complete skin care exam in addition to looking at your suspicious area. If they feel that the mole in question is in question, they will do a biopsy right there in their office. This means they will cut the mole off and send it off to be tested. They will give you local anesthesia and cut into the area where the mole is including some borders around the mole. It is not a great feeling but really is not a big deal. With a bandage and a little bacterial ointment you are fine. The dermatologist's office will let you know within 7-10 days what the results are. My experience was that if your results are positive they will call you quickly and get you back in their office asap.
What Happens After A Positive Diagnosis for Melanoma?
If your results are positive you will be called back into the office quickly for additional testing. They will usually cut the area deeper and wider to make sure there are clear margins around where the mole was. They send off this additional biopsy and make sure they see areas of no cancer from what they cut. They want to make sure they get it all removed. There will also be some additional blood tests and may be other tests depending on what level your cancer was. There are multiple levels that define how thick the tumor was. Mine was a level 3 and I only required blood tests and the additional biopsy. Either way, at this point you will want the doctor to run whatever tests necessary to make sure all the cancer was removed and it has not spread to any other areas of your body.
Find out everything you want to know about Melanoma diagnosis and treatment:
Life After Diagnosis of Melanoma
A positive diagnosis or malignant Melanoma changes your life. Hopefully you found yours early and it was successfully removed with no other signs of it spreading. This is because you did your self skin exams and paid attention to what your moles looked like and noticed the changes in your body. After having melanoma you continue to perform your self skin exams as well as go see your dermatologist every 6 months to a year for a complete skin exam. I have had several moles removed over the years that were suspicious after my diagnosis and all of them came back negative. But you have to get them off and make sure. I also have periodic blood work done. Sunscreen is my best friend and tanning beds are off limits. I have found some very good over the counter products that provide a little color to my skin to keep me from that glowing white color during the summer months. The lotions with a gradual self tanner are far better than the orange self tanners that are out there. Loreal puts out a great lotion (Loreal Sublime Glow) that provides subtle color over a few applications and it also has a little sparkly glow to it. Take advantage of these products in lieu of jumping in the tanning bed. I am very lucky to have found my cancer early and only have to do these minimal things to live a long happy life!
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