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Dr. Lawrence Samuels, St. Luke's Hospital

Study: Melanoma diagnosis affects women differently

New research shows that a melanoma diagnosis can have long-term effects on women's lives. Melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer, but if it's caught early, it can be cured. According to a recent issue of Archives of Dermatology, women were more likely to report negative cancer-related issues with their quality of life, including problems with socializing, traveling or time with family. However, women were more likely to adjust their sun behavior more significantly than men and were more worried about the effects of ultraviolet radiation.

This report coincides with a rising trend in melanoma cases among young women. In 1973, there were five-and-a-half cases per 100,000 women ages 15 to 39. By 2004, that number rose to 15 per 100,000.

Melanomas occur most frequently in people with light-colored hair or iris (eye) color because their skin is more susceptible to ultraviolet light rays. Any woman who freckles and burns in the sun regularly without tanning has an increased risk. A woman who has a large number of moles (i.e., greater than 25) is also at greater risk to develop a melanoma.

Treatment for a melanoma usually involves surgically removing the cancerous skin cells and some normal tissue that surrounds the cancer site. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, they may also need to be removed. Subsequent chemotherapy or immunotherapy may also be needed.

To help detect melanomas, what should you look for? Use the "ABCDE" method:
  • Asymmetry: Melanomas generally have an irregular shape.
  • Border irregularity: The border is irregular and often notched.
  • Color variation: Although melanomas are usually dark brown or black, any skin lesion that is multi-colored should be checked.
  • Diameter: Eventually, melanomas become larger than ordinary moles. Any pigmented spot greater than six millimeters in diameter should be examined and followed carefully.
  • Evolving: Any skin lesion that changes in size, color, elevation or sensation should be checked immediately.
Melanoma in advanced stages is difficult to treat. So, avoid the urge to visit tanning salons, and use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Use sunscreens daily and not just on sunny days. If you experience any of the "ABCDE" signs of a melanoma, have a doctor examine your skin.

Dr. Lawrence Samuels is chief of dermatology at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-576-7343 or visit his Physician Referral page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on April 21, 2011.

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