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Learn the Facts about Melanoma

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Learn more about it, like what causes it, what it is, and ways to reduce your risk.

Know the signs of melanoma, woman checking her arm

You may have heard that melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. And that's definitely true. But why is that? Read on for answers to this and other must-know facts about melanoma:

Q: What is melanoma?

A:Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs when melanocytes—skin cells that give skin its color—begin to change and become cancerous. 

Q: Why is it so dangerous?

A: Melanoma is far less common than other types of skin cancer, such as squamous and basal cell carcinomas. But melanoma is more likely to spread deep into the skin or to other parts of the body if it isn't treated early. It can even be fatal if it is diagnosed at a late stage.

Related: Better Than Sunscreen: Dress Your Kids in UV Protective Clothing

Q: Who is at risk for melanoma?

A: You are more likely to get melanoma if you have fair skin that burns easily. But even people with dark skin can get melanoma. In fact, anyone can get this disease. One of the biggest risk factors is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light over time—including light from the sun, sunlamps, or tanning beds. If you have many moles, this can also raise your risk of melanoma.

Q: Can you prevent it?

A: You can reduce your risk by limiting UV exposure. When spending time outdoors, wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Whenever possible, stay in the shade and wear protective clothing and gear, like long-sleeved shirts, hats, and sunglasses. And don't try to tan—either from real sun or tanning booths.

Related: How to Choose Sunscreen and When to Reapply

Q: What does melanoma look like?

A: Signs to watch for include a new skin spot or a change in an existing mole. When evaluating moles for possible melanoma, remember the ABCDEs of melanoma:

A—Asymmetry. One half of the mole looks different from the other half.

B—Borders. The mole has irregular borders.

C—Color. The mole has multiple colors.

D—Diameter. Most melanomas are larger than a pencil eraser.

E—Evolving. The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

Tell your doctor if you notice any of these signs or if you notice other moles or skin changes that itch, ooze, bleed, or just look abnormal. Now that you know more about melanoma, do what it takes to avoid it. 

While you’re here, check out our other articles on healthy living. For information on our medical and dental plans, visit selecthealth.org/plans.

References: American Academy of Dermatology: National Cancer Institute

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