Risk Factors for Melanoma

What causes melanoma?

Anyone can get melanoma. Most people who get melanoma have light skin, but people who have brown and black skin also get melanoma. Your risk of getting melanoma increases if you seek the sun, tanning beds, or sunlamps: These all emit ultraviolet light (UV), and scientists have proven that UV light can cause skin cancer in people. Using indoor tanning beds before age 35 can increase your risk of melanoma by 59%, and the risk increases with each use. Living close to the equator and failing to protect your skin also puts you at an increased risk. You are also at an increased risk if you have had 5 or more blistering sunburns as a child or teenager. Even if you haven’t had a sunburn in recent years, the sunburns that you got as a child still put you at risk for melanoma in your older years.

While exposure to UV light greatly increases your risk of developing melanoma, your other characteristics also play a role. These include:

  • Fair skin. Having less pigment (melanin) in your skin means you have less protection from damaging UV radiation. If you have blonde or red hair, light-colored eyes, and freckle or sunburn easily, you’re more likely to develop melanoma than is someone with a darker complexion. But melanoma can develop in people of all races and those with darker complexions, including Hispanics and blacks.
  • 50 or more moles
  • Large or atypical moles
  • Had melanoma or another type of skin cancer
  • Had another type of cancer, such as breast or thyroid cancer
  • A disease that weakens your immune system, or taking medicines to quiet your immune system, such as taking life-saving medicines to prevent organ rejection after transplant surgery

 

Scientists have also found that some people inherit genes that increase their risk of getting melanoma. Therefore if a close blood relative — such as a parent, child or sibling — has had melanoma, you have a greater chance of developing it too.

In order for early detection it is recommended to have your skin checked by a dermatologist once a year, or if you notice any mole changing.

Women and facial hair

All women have facial and body hair, but the hair is usually very fine and light in color. Excessive or unwanted hair that grows on a woman’s body and face is the result of a condition called hirsutism.

The main difference between typical hair on a woman’s body and face (often called “peach fuzz”) and hair caused by hirsutism is the texture and location. Hirsutism is when usually fine hair is coarse or if it grows in areas where hair is not usually present.

Women develop excessive body or facial hair, called hirsutism, may be due to higher-than-normal levels of androgens, including testosterone. All females produce androgens, but the levels typically remain low. Certain medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS),  can cause a woman to produce too many androgens and, as can normal life events such as pregnancy. Hair growth or hirsutism in pregnancy is usually due to hormonal fluctuations — an increase in secretion of male hormones or androgens from the ovaries and placenta.

Waxing, shaving, and depilatories: If you have hirsutism, you may need to be more proactive about waxing, shaving, and using depilatories (topically applied creams lotions or foams that remove hair). These are all pretty affordable and take effect immediately, but they require continual treatment.

Laser hair removal: Laser hair removal involves using concentrated light rays to damage your hair follicles. Damaged follicles can’t produce hair, and the hair that’s present falls out. With sufficient treatments, laser hair removal can provide permanent or near-permanent results.

Electrolysis: Electrolysis is the removal of hair using an electric current. It treats each hair follicle individually, so the sessions can take longer.

How to do a monthly skin check

It’s important to keep an eye on your skin and any changes that may occur. Patients are recommended to take a good look at their own skin once a month. So put a reminder in your phone and spend 5 minutes doing a good check:

  1. Examine your face, especially your nose, lips, mouth and ears — front and back. Use one or both mirrors to get a clear view.
  2. Thoroughly inspect your scalp, using a blow-dryer and mirror to expose each section to view. Get a friend or family member to help, if you can.
  3. Check your hands carefully: palms and backs, between the fingers and under the fingernails. Continue up the wrists to examine both the front and back of your forearms.
  4. Standing in front of the full-length mirror, begin at the elbows and scan all sides of your upper arms. Don’t forget your underarms.
  5. Next, focus on the neck, chest and torso. Women should lift breasts to view the undersides.
  6. With your back to the full-length mirror, use the hand mirror to inspect the back of your neck, shoulders, upper back and any part of the back of your upper arms you could not view in step 4.
  7. Still using both mirrors, scan your lower back, buttocks and backs of both legs.
  8. Sit down; prop each leg in turn on the other stool or chair. Use the hand mirror to examine the genitals. Check the front and sides of both legs, thigh to shin, ankles, tops of feet, between toes and under toenails. Examine soles of feet and heels.

 

Refer to the ABCDE’s when monitoring a spot on your skin:

Asymmetry: when the shape of the lesion is not even;

Border: if the border is uneven or not well-defined;

Color: if there is more than color in the lesion;

Diameter: bigger than the size of a pencil eraser;

Evolving: if the lesion has been changing in any way over time, either slowly or quickly.

Over the counter acne medications: has anything changed?



There are two ingredients that you have probably seen listed as active ingredients of acne products at your local pharmacy are: benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. These two ingredients have dominated the market for years– here’s how they work:

  • Benzoyl Peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide unclogs skin pores by stopping bacteria from growing and causing an acne pimple. It acts as an antiseptic against Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria that causes acne. In addition to killing bacteria, benzoyl peroxide makes some prescription antibiotics more effective in their fight against acne causing bacteria. Furthermore, benzoyl peroxide can prevent resistance from developing to antibiotics. Benzoyl peroxide is available in many forms: soap, lotion, cream, gel, liquid, pad and foam. Although it is available in strengths ranging from 2.5% to 10%, more is not always better!  Once you get above 5%, the benzoyl peroxide doesn’t work any better to kill bacteria, it just will make your skin more dry.  One caution with using benzoyl peroxide as it can bleach your towels or clothes so apply with caution!

  • Salicylic Acid: Salicylic acid has the ability to break down sebum that clogs pores. Because salicylic acid can unclog pores, it can help reduce blackheads and whiteheads. Salicylic acid does not reduce the acne causing bacteria. It is also available in many different forms and strengths over the counter. There are also chemical peels available to treat acne that contain salicylic acid.

Both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are tried and true ingredients that can help clear acne. Recently, a new acne-fighter has been introduced to the pharmacy: Differin. Up until a few months ago, Differin was a prescription-only medication. It has recently been approved for over the counter use and has kept its original strength of 0.1%. This is a different mode of treating acne than benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, as it is a retinoid product. Retinoids are a form of vitamin A. They also reduce acne outbreaks by preventing dead skin cells from clogging pores. Talk to your dermatologist about which topical may be right for you.