Melanoma is one of the three common skin cancers which is caused mainly by exposure to sunrays. The other two are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
For Canadian males, the rate for melanoma has tripled since the late 1960s. For Canadian females, the rates have varied over the years but still show a gradual increase.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. If diagnosed and removed early then the cure rate can be excellent. Once the cancer advances and spreads to other parts of the body, it is hard to treat and can be deadly. The death rate from melanoma continues to rise about two percent annually.
Skin is the largest organ of our body and has many important functions to protect us from environment. Skin is constantly exposed to sun, wind, industrial elements and other causes of external and internal injury.
Melanoma arises from cells called melanocytes. These cells contain melanin (melas = black) – a principal pigment responsible for the color of human skin, hair, and eyes. Melanin also acts as a filter to decrease the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays to the dermis.
When the skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation, there is immediate increase in the number of melanocytes and production of melanin pigment. This results in tanning. The amount of melanin produced is genetically determined. That is why some people burn easily without tanning.
The risk of skin cancer is increased in individuals who spend too much time outdoors; children who have had episodic sunburn, and if there is a family or personal history of skin cancer (especially melanoma). Males are affected more than females.
There are two important things to remember about prevention of skin cancer: cover up and stay out of the sun.
We need to remember that skin tanned by ultraviolet radiation is damaged skin which predisposes to cancer. We need to avoid sunburn and generally reduce exposure to ultraviolet radiation by staying out of the midday sun, wearing protective clothing, seeking shade, and applying sunscreen.
We should have moles or sun burnt skin surgically removed if they show signs of change or non-healing. Bleeding, chronic irritation, change in color or size should warn us to have these moles removed.
Despite having a good understanding of the relation between overexposure to the sun and skin cancer, 81per cent of North Americans still think they look good after being in the sun. Just like the smokers. They know smoking kills but they still smoke.
Does melanoma occur in children? Yes, approximately two per cent of melanomas occur in patients under the age of 20 years, and about 0.4 per cent of melanomas occur in pre-pubertal children.
Prevention of skin cancer is very important. This should start in childhood. More than 90 percent of skin cancers occur on sun-exposed areas of the body. So, protect yourselves from the damaging effects of sun and tanning beds.
Artificial tanning machines are also dangerous. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the increased popularity of artificial tanning machines is one of the main reasons for a rapid increase in incidence of skin cancer, particularly among young women in Europe and North America.
WHO suggested Governments should pass laws on the responsible use of sun beds, banning their use for all people under 18.
So make an investment in sunscreen, wide brimmed hat, sunglasses which filter ultraviolet rays and stay away from the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Enjoy the summer, get enough vitamin D for the winter but be sun smart.
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