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Melanoma Awareness Month

May is Melanoma Awareness month, a time to draw attention to melanoma - a form of cancer that is usually found on the skin. As with all cancers, early detection is important.

Supplementally Speaking hopes to increase awareness about melanoma symptoms and to help you understand the importance of at-home skin checks. Now is the time to learn about the harm melanoma can cause and what we can do to combat it.
 

What is Melanoma?

 

Melanoma is a type of cancer of the skin. It is the most serious type of skin cancer and develops in the cells that produce melanin – the pigment that gives your skin color. It is widely believed that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning beds can cause melanoma. [1]

Melanoma is considered the most serious type of skin cancer because it can spread to lymph nodes and organs. Other types of skin cancer -- such as basal cell – grow slowly and only rarely spreads to other parts of the body.[2],[3] The same cannot be said of melanoma, which is a serious and aggressive form of cancer.
 

How many people are diagnosed in a year?

 

In 2020, about 106,110 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma. It is estimated that 7,180 people will die of melanoma in 2020.[4]

Melanoma is diagnosed in white men over the age of 50 more than any other ethnicity or age group. The lifetime risk for getting melanoma is 1 in 40 for Caucasians, 1 in 200 for Hispanics, and 1 in 1,000 for African Americans.[5]


What are the symptoms of melanoma?

 

Melanomas can appear anywhere on the body and are identified by a new spot or mole on the body that changes its size, shape, or color.[6] In addition to continuing to change, the spot will appear different from other spots or moles on your skin in its size, shape, and color.

When checking your own skin, doctors recommend referring to the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma:

  • “A” is for asymmetrical. The mole or spot will have an irregular shape with two parts that differ from each other.
  • “B” stands for border. The border will be irregular or jagged.
  • “C” is for color. The color may not be the same all over, instead having different shades of brown, black, pink, red, or blue.
  • “D” is for diameter. The diameter will be larger than 6 millimeters - or around the size of a pea.
  • “E” is for evolving. The spot will continue to change in its size, shape, and color. [7],[8]

 

How to prevent melanoma

 

Melanoma is caused by UV rays which means the most important and effective way to prevent melanoma is to stay out of the sun and away from tanning beds. Nearly 90% of melanomas are thought to be caused by exposure to the sun and UV lights. Additionally, doctors say it takes only one blistering sunburn, especially as a child, to more than double your chances of developing melanoma. It takes having five or more blistering sunburns early in life to increase your risk of melanoma by 80%.[9]

UV rays can reach skin anywhere and at any time. That’s why wearing sunscreen when you are outside is very important. Even when it is a cloudy or cold day, UV rays are still able to reach you.

The CDC recommends the following as ways to stay out of the sun:[10]

  • Stay in the shade
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs
  • Wear a hat to shade your face
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and has both UVA and UVB protection
  • Avoid indoor tanning beds

 

Detecting melanoma

 

As with most cancers, detecting melanoma early can have a huge impact on survival rates. While there are no tests for early detection, an important tool is skin self-exams. Knowing your own skin and what your current moles and spots look like will alert you to any new growths.

To complete your self-exams, make sure you are in a well-lit room and ask for help to examine hard to see areas such as your back. Melanoma can occur underneath nails or on your scalp, so a thorough exam is important.

In addition to self-exams, it’s important to get a yearly mole check by a dermatologist.

 

How to treat melanoma

 

For those people who are diagnosed with melanoma, there are several treatment options which an oncologist will determine based on several factors including:

  • Your age and overall health
  • The stage of the cancer
  • The chances treatment will cure or help your cancer
  • The possible side effects from the treatment[11]
  • Based on the factors above, your oncologist will consider the following treatment options:
  • Surgery
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy drugs
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

Some people may only need one type of treatment while others need more. The more advanced the cancer, the more treatments will be needed to try to slow down or stop the progression. 
 

Surviving melanoma


When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99%.[12] More therapies are being tested that fight against this cancer. In fact, the number of melanoma deaths is expected to increase by 4.6% in 2020. Across all stages of melanoma, the average five-year survival rate in the United States is 93%, but that rate falls to 66% when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and to 27% when it metastasizes to organs.[13]

Education is key to early detection. Doctors and scientists are constantly working on medical advances to help combat this cancer.

 

The financial impact of cancer

 

Being diagnosed with melanoma is frightening. The last thing any new cancer patient wants to worry about when grappling with such difficult news is the financial impact of the disease on their family. That’s why Combined Insurance offers the specialty product, Cancer Protector.

We understand that many families don’t have the cash flow to withstand a cancer diagnosis. [BC1]

Click here to learn more about this important and reassuring policy.

Learning about melanoma and its warning signs can help save a life.

This blog post is intended for educative and entertainment purposes only. It should not be construed as medical advice.

 

Cancer policies underwritten by Combined Insurance Company of America (Chicago, IL) in all states, except New York. In New York, Cancer policies underwritten by Combined Life Insurance Company of New York (Latham, NY). Combined Insurance Company of America is not licensed and does not solicit business in New York. Cancer policies not available in all states. Exclusions and limitations apply. See policy for complete details.

 

References

[1]  Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, March 10). Melanoma. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/melanoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20374884.

[2] Understand Melanoma. Melanoma Research Foundation. (2021, January 22). https://melanoma.org/melanoma-education/understand-melanoma/.

[3] What Are Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers?: Types of Skin Cancer. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). https://www.cancer.org/cancer/basal-and-squamous-cell-skin-cancer/about/what-is-basal-and-squamous-cell.html.  

[4]  Melanoma Skin Cancer Statistics. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/about/key-statistics.html.

[5]  Facts & Stats. Melanoma Research Foundation. (2021, February 2). https://melanoma.org/melanoma-education/understand-melanoma/facts-stats/.

[6] Signs of Melanoma Skin Cancer: Symptoms of Melanoma. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html.

[7] Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma Skin Cancer. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html.  

[8]  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, April 28). What Are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/symptoms.htm.

[9]  Melanoma Facts & Stats. Melanoma Research Foundation. (2021, February 2). https://melanoma.org/melanoma-education/understand-melanoma/facts-stats/.

[10] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, April 28). What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Skin Cancer? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/prevention.htm.

[11]  Treating Melanoma Skin Cancer: How Is Melanoma Treated? American Cancer Society. (n.d.). https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/treating.html.

[12]  Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics. The Skin Cancer Foundation. (2021, April 1). https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts/.

[13]  Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics. The Skin Cancer Foundation. (2021, April 1). https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts/.