Dr. Kelly Jerstad is a board certified dermatologist in South Dakota. You may also know her as The Social Dermatoligist, on the website The Social Derm. Be Well South Dakota is honored to have her as our featured guest blogger this week!
Hello fellow South Dakotans! Did you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer worldwide? The three most common types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma (the most common), squamous cell carcinoma (the second most common) and melanoma. Today, I would like to discuss melanoma prevention. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer and is the fastest growing cancer in the US and worldwide. The lifetime risk of developing melanoma in the US is 1 in 50. Luckily, the majority (but not all) of skin cancers including melanoma, are visible! This means you can partake in the prevention of this type of cancer unlike any other cancer…because you can usually see it…but you have to be looking!
The biggest risk factor for melanoma is having a large number of moles. Other risk factors include a history of blistering sunburns especially as a child, red hair, fair skin and light eyes, a history of tanning bed use or extensive sun exposure and a family history of melanoma. I recommend yearly skin checks by a dermatologist if you have any of these risk factors. Your dermatologist will help you on several levels. First, they will help you access your risk level and identify any suspicious moles. But, it is important for your dermatologist to know if you have noticed any changing or new moles. Not all changing or new moles are bad, but they do have to be evaluated with a “higher level of suspicion”, meaning extra attention during evaluation has to be given to these moles. This is one of the biggest reasons monthly self skin examinations are important and I recommend examining your skin on a monthly basis whether you have risk factors or not.
A melanoma can develop from a mole or on normal skin out of nowhere. Melanomas tend to stand out (“the ugly duckling rule”) from other moles because they typically are darker than other moles and may be irregularly bordered, asymmetric or have multiple colors. Melanomas usually do not start out as being raised; and a raised mole, unless it has changed, is not necessarily suspicious for a melanoma. Melanomas are most common on areas of the skin that usually don’t get much sun exposure such as on the backs of men and the legs of women in comparison to the head and neck which get year round sun exposure. The exception to this is lentigo maligna melanoma which is a type of melanoma that starts from a sun spot but gradually changes and is most common in the elderly and is often on the head and neck.
Any changing lesion or pimple-like lesion that doesn’t heal, bleeds or feels irritated should be evaluated. The best preventative measures against melanoma are respecting the sun and wearing sunscreen religiously, monthly self exams and being seen by a dermatologist if you have risk factors.