By Hayley Crosby
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, around 120,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. But treatment options are very good if it’s detected early.
Melanoma can affect anyone, male or female, young or old. If you are fair-skinned and have a lot of moles you have a greater risk of developing melanoma. Although melanoma can also affect people with darker skin tones, too. Family history also increases risk. If one of your parents, brothers or sisters, or children has been diagnosed with melanoma, your chances of developing the disease increases by 50 percent.
Most melanoma is caused by too much exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight. (Yes, that means that tanning beds also increase a person’s risk.) If you had a sunburn that created blisters as a child, more exposure to to UV radiation over time increases your risk. In fact, having melanoma once makes you nine times more likely to get it again.
While melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin, it most frequently appears on the chest and back of men and on the legs of women. The face and neck can also be common sites. Here are some things you should look for:
- Shape: if you were to draw a line through a mole, the two sides should match.
- Color: many different colors in a single mole is of concern; colors can include brown, black, tan, red, blue and other colors.
- Size: Melanomas are often larger than the eraser on a pencil (early melanomas may be smaller).
- Check the edges of the mole as well. Melanomas tend to have irregular margins that look scalloped or notched instead of smooth.
- If the mole changes shape, size, elevation, begins to bleed, itch, or crust over you should have it checked.
If a doctor determines you have melanoma, it is extremely important to catch the disease before it spreads. He or she may request a lymphoscinitgraphy exam to get a closer look. This involves a small injection of a radiopharmaceutical material, which helps the surgeon locate the disease using a nuclear medicine camera. The surgeon then takes a biopsy, or sample, to see whether it has spread. From there, the surgeon and your primary care provider will work together to determine a course of treatment.
A lymposcintigraphy exam provides more precise information about melanoma than other exams. In addition, it is a less invasive surgery for the patient because the surgeon can make a smaller incision. Always looking to improve patient care, the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Radiology Department recently began offering lymphoscintigraphy exams for patients with skin cancer. If you have any further questions, please contact your primary care provider.
Hayley Crosby is the Lead Nuclear Medicine Technologist & Diagnostic Coordinator at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at 802-251-8408.