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Melanoma of the Skin

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that involves changes in cells called melanocytes, which produce the skin pigment called melanin. Compared to other forms of skin cancer, melanoma has a stronger propensity to spread throughout the body and cause death, if left untreated. Early detection is therefore important and treatment is often curative, when the melanoma is found in early stages. The primary risk factor for melanoma is excess ultraviolet radiation exposure (from the sun, sunlamps, or tanning beds) and prevention efforts are aimed at reduction of overexposure to ultraviolet light (UV light).
Each year in the U.S., about 75,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed, and 9,000 deaths occur due to melanoma. Males are at roughly 50% higher risk than females, and about half the cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. occur in persons under the age of 60 years.
It is estimated that over 75,000 people will be newly diagnosed with melanoma in the U.S during 2012, of which roughly 60% of cases will occur in males and 50% among persons aged 60 years and older. The remaining 50% of cases occur primarily in persons aged 20-44 years (20%) and those aged 45-59 years (30%). The majority of melanoma cases occur in persons of light complexion with minimal skin pigmentation.
People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop melanoma. The risk factors include:
  • a lighter natural skin color
  • family history of skin cancer
  • a personal history of skin cancer
  • exposure to the sun through work and play
  • a history of sunburns early in life
  • a history of indoor tanning
  • skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun
  • blue or green eyes
  • blond or red hair, and
  • certain types and a large number of moles.
You can learn about known and probable carcinogens from Known and Probable Human Carcinogens at (external site).
You can learn more about risks and prevention and the New Mexico Department of Health Cancer Prevention and Control site:
More than half of a person's lifetime skin damage from sun exposure occurs by the age of 18, so it is important to educate yourself, your children, and anyone who cares for children when it's best to be out of the sun and how to take measures to protect their skin.
Taking the following steps may reduce one's risk of melanoma.
  • Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV radiation is strongest.
  • Seek shade, especially during midday hours.
  • Wear clothing to protect skin from exposure-long sleeves and long pants are best.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
  • Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection.
  • Avoid indoor tanning. Indoor tanning also exposes people to UV radiation.

Protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is important all year round, not just during the summer or at the beach. UV rays from the sun can reach people on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days. UV rays also reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow.
High levels of UV radiation are present during most days of the year in New Mexico. The UV Index predicts the strength of solar UV radiation on any given day using a scale from 1 (low) to 11+ (extremely high).
You can use the UV Index to take appropriate sun-protective precautions and avoid overexposure to UV radiation.
See today's UV Index:
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Content updated: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 16:26:03 MDT