Each year, the first Monday in May is recognized as “Melanoma Monday,” as May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. This national day of observance was established by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) to bring about awareness of this deadly type of skin cancer. This is largely due to the organization’s reports that melanoma rates in the United States have been rising rapidly over the past 30 years — doubling from 1982 to 2011.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACC), melanoma is defined as a type of skin cancer that develops when melanocytes (the cells that give the skin its tan or brown color) start to grow out of control. While melanoma is much less common than some other types of skin cancers, it is dangerous because this type is more likely to spread to other parts of the body if not caught and treated early.
As in the case with other cancers, this early treatment can be pivotal in increasing a patient’s survival rate. The ACC states the five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 92%. For this reason, everyone, including seniors and aging adults, should make a habit of taking precautions to protect against skin damage and melanoma. To provide helpful insight, the ACC recommends people take the following preventative measures:
- Seek Shade: The ACC recommends that those individuals who expect to be outside for a period of time should try to find a shaded area to remain under. Ultimately, seeking shade means to avoid direct exposure to ultraviolet rays (UV). This is also true in the case of direct exposure from tanning beds and sunlamps — which should also be avoided.
- “Slip! Slop! Slap! … and Wrap”: This catchphrase is designed to help people remember four key steps they can take when shade is not an option. This includes slipping on a shirt, slopping on sunscreen, slapping on a hat and wrapping on sunglasses. Not only does this phrase help to protect skin from UV rays, but it also protects a person’s eyes.
- Avoid a Weakened Immune System If Possible: Less commonly known, the ACC reports that having a weakened immune system can increase a person’s risk of getting melanoma and other types of skin cancer. While a weakened immune system can result from certain known infections (such as HIV and AIDS), it can also be caused by medication designed to suppress the immune system. For example, patients who have undergone an organ transplant may be required to take these medications. While in most cases the benefit of taking these medications will outweigh the risk, there still remains a small risk.
Knowing this information, remember that although the summer is approaching with warm weather days, everyone must recognize the importance of skin care when venturing out into the sun. Limiting exposure to UV rays can have great benefits when it comes to maintaining health and avoiding cancerous outcomes. Next time you or a loved one head outside, make sure to protect yourself with sunscreen or sun protection accessories.