In May 1981, the music world lost a legend when reggae artist, Bob Marley, died after a four-year battle with melanoma – a deadly skin cancer that can be completely curable if caught early. In Marley’s case, the melanoma began as a dark spot under his toenail. The musician had attributed it to an old soccer injury. By the time his melanoma was diagnosed, it had already spread to other areas in his body.
While Marley’s melanoma was not in a common location, people should be aware that this type of melanoma is more common in darker skin types. Marley had acral lentiginous melanoma, a rare form of skin cancer that appears on hairless parts of the body, such as the soles of the feet and palms of the hand. It can become extremely aggressive as it is typically detected only after it has reached advanced stages. A melanoma even a millimeter deep is already deep enough to breach the bloodstream and spread to the rest of the body.
Melanoma occurs when cells that produce the skin pigment become cancerous. A malignant melanoma, while most often associated with overexposure to ultraviolet rays and sunburns, can also occur due to genetic risk.
More often than not, as Marley’s case shows, an aggressive melanoma can be difficult to treat. With new treatments for melanoma, many people with advanced cancer have better survival statistics. Yet the five-year survival rate for those that catch melanoma early before it spreads is an astonishing 99%. In other words, Marley probably could have survived had he received timely treatment.
Skin Cancer Risk Factors
Regular screening is recommended for those at risk of skin cancer, including those who have:
- A lowered immune system
- Skin that easily burns
- Fair skin
- Light-colored eyes (green or blue)
- Tanning bed use
- A large number of moles
- Family history of cancerous or precancerous skin conditions
Early Melanoma Detection
Skin cancer affects one in five Americans and accounts for one-third of cancer diagnoses in the U.S. The most common skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. While death attributed to nonmelanoma cancer is low, malignant melanoma of the skin is responsible for 75% of the fatalities due to skin cancer. Melanoma is the third most common type of skin cancer, and when left unchecked, it can spread. It is usually curable if detected and treated early, making identification crucial to improving your outcome.
Skin Cancer Screening
Skin cancer screening is an evaluation that checks for visible signs of concerning skin changes. Conducting routine inspections can help you identify potential issues before they become a problem.
Treating Precancerous Growths
If changes to moles or new growths are determined to be concerning there are several treatment options available depending on the skin issue. These include:
- Surgical removal
- Topical creams
- Photodynamic therapy
- Targeted medications
Early identification of changes can improve the chances of a successful treatment plan.
More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than with cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon combined, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And while it’s most common in fair complexions and those with a history of even one bad, blistering sunburn, skin cancer can develop in any skin tone or types, and anywhere on the body. The good news is that the disease has a very high cure rate when caught and treated early.
It is important to encourage early detection of skin cancer by reminding friends and family of the importance of scheduling a skin exam with a dermatologist. Fortunately, most medical insurance plans cover this routine visit. It is advised that all nail polish be removed from fingernails and toenails to allow for examination of these areas.
Schedule Mole-Mapping Services
Total body photography (also known as “mole mapping”) is an additional surveillance tool to assist with monitoring moles and skin lesions in order to help detect skin cancers, including melanoma. A baseline set of high-resolution photographs are taken of the skin to document existing moles throughout the body. These photographs can be used at future visits with the dermatologist to help monitor for new or changing moles. Follow up photos taken on the FotoFinder system can be compared to analyze deviations in size, color, border, and shape.
If you are looking for a dermatologist experienced in skin cancer screening or have concerns about changes in your skin, contact North Metro Dermatology today to schedule a consultation.