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The Melanoma Month of May.

May 9, 2009

Here in Australia May is all about Mothers day (tomorrow, yay!), re-stocking the woodpile and pulling those woolen blankets from the cupboard. Yup, May marks the end of long summer days and the drawing in of winter. However, somewhere on the other side of the world the sun is starting to shine, the clothes are coming off and the nights seem to last forever – someone should put that into a song…..

We all love the feeling of the sun tickling our cheeks as we relax and unwind after a long cold winter and there is nothing nicer than seeing the sunrise up from behind lush green trees or over a lake that sparkles like freshly un-corked champagne. However, with sun induced skin cancers on the rise in many countries, the sun and our place under it must be carefully considered and respected.

In the USA, May is Melanoma month and while melanoma accounts for only a small percentage of all skin cancers, it is the most deadly. The good news is that Melanoma can be treated if caught early enough so we should all remain vigilant to skin changes and remember our ABCD’s.

A is for Asymmetry.  Check out any moles or skin growths and keep an eye on any that change over time. Asymmetrical growth is where one side of the mole or growth changes at a different rate to the other.  Get these checked by a dermatologist immediately.

B is for Border. Get a second opinion on any skin growths or moles that have an irregular border such as uneven edges.

C is for Colour.  Keep an eye on growths or moles that are of more than one colour. Melanomas can appear in many shades from black and dark blue to reds and even white.

D is for Diameter. Growths or moles with a diameter that is larger than the end of a pencil should be monitored. Any growth in diameter should be investigated.

In addition to getting to know our own skin, it is prudent to adopt behavior to prevent cancers forming.  In Australia we have been told to “Slip, Slop, Slap” for many years – Slip on a tee shirt, Slop on some sunscreen (broad spectrum) and Slap on a hat.  This is a good place to start but cancer councils now advocate seeking out shade during the middle part of the day and also the wearing of sunglasses to protect the eyes.  With a little bit of behavior modification and some forward planning it may be possible to reverse the worrying trend of rising melanoma rates.

The study of how our skin interacts with the sun is called Photobiology and looks at the interaction of the sun’s different wavelengths upon the skin and other living organisms. While our skin has evolved to live in harmony with the sun, our lifestyles and will for adventure has left many fair-skinned individuals over-exposed. For more background on how sunscreens work, what broad-spectrum actually means and what nano-particles have to do with it all we recommend visiting the website of the Australian Photobiology Testing Facility at the University of Sydney.  This link takes you to their extensive information page.

Take care during this Melanoma month of May and don’t forget to have some fun in the sun while we Aussies prepare to freeze!

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