July 20, 2010 – Ozone layer depletion decreases our atmosphere’s natural protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
July being the Ultra Violet rays safety month, we have identified melanoma skin cancer as one of the common diseases caused by UV rays.
Other side effects include:
• Premature aging of the skin.
• Cataracts/eye damage.
• Immune system suppression.
Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is now one of the most common cancers among adolescents and young adults ages 15-29. It is the cutaneous tumor with the worst prognosis and its incidence is growing. While melanoma accounts for about 3% of skin cancer cases, it causes more than 75% of skin cancer deaths. UV exposure and sunburns, particularly during childhood, are risk factors for the disease. Not all melanomas are exclusively sun-related other possible influences include genetic factors and immune system deficiencies.
Non-melanoma skin cancers are less deadly than melanomas. Nevertheless, they can spread if left untreated, causing disfigurement and more serious health problems.
The chance of developing melanoma increases with age, but this disease affects people of all ages. It can occur on any skin surface.
In men, melanoma is often found on the trunk (the area between the shoulders and the hips) or the head and neck.
In women, it often develops on the lower legs. It can also develop under the fingernails or toenails, or on the palms or soles.
When melanoma spreads, cancer cells may show up in nearby lymph nodes. Groups of lymph nodes are found throughout the body. Lymph nodes trap bacteria, cancer cells, or other harmful substances that may be in the lymphatic system. If the cancer has reached the lymph nodes, it may mean that cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body such as the liver, lungs, or brain
Risk factors for melanoma.
? Fair skin: Melanoma occurs more frequently in people who have fair skin that burns or freckles easily than in people with dark skin. White people also get melanoma far more often than black people, probably because light skin is more easily damaged by the sun.
? Personal history of melanoma or skin cancer: People who have been treated for melanoma have a high risk of a second melanoma.
? Family history of melanoma: Melanoma sometimes runs in families. Having two or more close relatives who have had this disease is a risk factor. About 10 percent of all patients with melanoma have a family member with this disease. When melanoma runs in a family, all family members should be checked regularly by a doctor.
? Weakened immune system: People whose immune system is weakened by certain cancers, by drugs given following organ transplantation, or by HIV are at increased risk of developing melanoma.
? Severe, blistering sunburns: People who have had at least one severe, blistering sunburn as a child or teenager are at increased risk of melanoma. Because of this, doctors advise that parents protect children’s skin from the sun. Such protection may reduce the risk of melanoma later in life. Sunburns in adulthood are also a risk factor for melanoma.
? Ultraviolet radiation: Experts believe that much of the worldwide increase in melanoma is related to an increase in the amount of time people spend in the sun. This disease is also more common in people who live in areas that get large amounts of UV radiation from the sun. Doctors encourage people to limit their exposure to natural UV radiation and to avoid artificial sources.
If a doctor suspects that a spot on the skin is melanoma, the patient will need to have a biopsy. A biopsy is the only way to make a definite diagnosis. In this procedure, the doctor tries to remove all of the suspicious-looking growth. This is an excisional biopsy. If the growth is too large to be removed entirely, the doctor removes a sample of the tissue.
A biopsy can usually be done in the doctor’s office using local anesthesia. A pathologist then examines the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. Sometimes it is helpful for more than one pathologist to check the tissue for cancer cells.
People with melanoma are often treated by a team of specialists. The team may include a dermatologist, surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and plastic surgeon.
To reduce the risk of melanoma, there are a few recommendations:
• Avoid exposure to the midday sun (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) whenever possible. When your shadow is shorter than you are, remember to protect yourself from the sun.
• If you must be outside, wear long sleeves, long pants, and a hat with a wide brim.
• Protect yourself from UV radiation that can penetrate light clothing, windshields, and windows.
• Protect yourself from UV radiation reflected by sand or water.
• Help protect your skin by using a lotion, cream, or gel that contains sunscreen. Many doctors believe sunscreens may help prevent melanoma, especially sunscreens that reflect, absorb, and/or scatter both types of ultraviolet radiation. These sunscreen products will be labeled with “broad-spectrum coverage.”
• Wear sunglasses that have UV-absorbing lenses. Sunglasses can protect both the eyes and the skin around the eyes.
To increase the chance of detecting a new or recurrent melanoma as early as possible, patients should follow their doctor’s schedule for regular checkups.