It’s the most destructive form of skin cancer and experts say, melanoma can affect anyone regardless of sex, race or age.
More than 80,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in Canada each year and approximately 7,300 Canadians were newly diagnosed with melanoma in 2017. It is also one of the most common types of skin cancer for people between ages 15 and 29.
“Canadians are still not in the habit of using daily sunscreen, despite skin cancer being the most common type of cancer in Canada. Many people only apply sunscreen when they are ‘going to be outside,'” says dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll of Compass Dermatology in Toronto.
“What they don’t realize is that they are getting exposure to and from the subway, through their car windows and by their desk window in the office. If there is enough light to see your hand in front of your face, there is enough sun to use SPF.”
May is also Skin Cancer Awareness Month and with the change in warmer weather from coast to coast, more Canadians will be spending time outdoors.
Caroll adds a single blistering sunburn before the age of 20 increases the risk of developing melanoma later in life, while artificial tanning devices emit 15 times the amount of UV rays as from sun exposure.
Last year, Sarah Frei shared a photo of her grandfather on social media, not knowing a dermatologist in her network was able to detect melanoma right away, Today reports.
“I was scrolling through Instagram one morning and I saw this picture of Sarah’s grandpa and I’ve seen pictures of him before, but he had this very obvious melanoma on his forehead,” Dr. Jennifer Mancuso, a board-certified dermatologist in Detroit recently told the site. “I think anyone would recognize it with any amount of training. I looked back at some older pictures and it was clear it was growing.”
After contacting Frei, the family made an appointment with a doctor, who confirmed the 91-year-old had skin cancer. However, because of the family’s quick response to get him checked, doctors removed 100 per cent of the cancer. There have been several stories like this over the years, and Carroll adds early detection is key.
The warning signs
The warning signs of melanoma really come down to inspecting moles or any discolouration on your body.
Carroll says there is the standard ABCDE rule to help people figure out if their moles are cancerous or not.
A: Asymmetry One side of a mole doesn’t match the other.
B: Borders A spot with wavy edges or pockets that “bleed” off into surrounding skin.
C: Colour The colour varies throughout the mole or a mole that’s darker than other moles
D: Diameter Larger than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser).
E: Evolving If the spot is getting bigger, changing in appearance over time
And besides this, there is also the Ugly Duckling Rule.
“The Ugly Duckling Rule is a tool that physicians created to note not only the changes in a specific mole, but also compares that mole to other lesions surrounding it. You should check your skin for any ‘outliers’ — spots that are bigger, darker or irregular in any way compared to other spots.”
If you do find any of these symptoms, contact your doctor right away.
Carroll says as summer approaches, it is key to keep sun safety tips in mind.
Avoid being outdoors during peak hours (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and use sun protective clothing including hats and sunglasses.
“Apply sunscreen generously, every two hours and after you sweat or get wet.”
With sunscreen in particular, always apply it before you get dressed and use a broad spectrum SPF with a minimum of SPF 30.
“And don’t forget the often-neglected spots including the tops of your ears and feet and the back of your neck,” she says. “There is a sunscreen out there for everyone. With sprays, foams, gels and sticks available, there isn’t an excuse to not use SPF.”