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Avoiding malignant melanomas.

Avoiding Malignant Melanomas

I have had a particular interest in melanomas since I lost a good friend to this insidious form of cancer. Like his parents, he might have lived into his 80s; instead, he died in his 50s.

My friend, like Gerald Malky, was a perfect candidate for melanoma--fair, reddish hair, and of Scandinavian descent. "He never thought he'd 'been' to Florida unless he came home with a suntan," his wife told me after his death.

Recent medical literature has pointed out that severe sunburns at an early age seem to cause melanomas. So I asked Gerald Malky if he had been sunburned as a youngster. "Had I!" he exclaimed. "My back would be just one big blister! Not once but many times I was traumatically sunburned."

Mary Durke also recalled being sunburned. She explained that she grew up near Lake Michigan and explained that she spent much of her childhood out-of-doors and near the water. Twice in her early 20s she was severely burned after she stayed out all day on the dunes with friends; she became extremely ill with coldchills and bad blisters.

Readers responsible for youngsters should take heed. If a child has a tendency to burn, protect him with plenty of sun screen and protective clothing.

Concern for prevention is justified: The incidence of melanoma in the United States is increasing. Twenty-two thousand new cases this year and 5,500 deaths are predicted. Fair-skinned persons are most vulnerable, but even blacks develop melanomas. The risk is higher where sunshine is intense year-round. Arizona has the highest incidence of melanomas.

Moles that typically run in families may serve as markers for persons likely to develop melanomas. Some clues to distinguish ordinary moles from malignant melanomas:

* One half doesn't match the other.

* The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.

* The pigmentation is not uniform, with shades of tan, brown, and black present.

* Any mole on the hands, feet, or genitals is suspect.

* A sudden or continuing increase in size takes place.

* Flat, black moles.

* Moles that bleed or form open sores.

In addition, any change in the surface of a mole, the spread of pigment from the border into the surrounding skin, a change in sensation, or redness or swelling beyond the border should be reported to your physician.

Melanomas may appear on the back, the legs, the arms, the face, or on any other area frequently exposed to the sun. These areas should be protected.

Covering up with a wide-brimmed hat and a bandana, a long-sleeved shirt, and pants will help cut down on sun exposure. Sun screens with a Sun Protective Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, applied an hour before venturing out and again after perspiring or swimming, are advisable. Avoid indoor tanning lamps, tanning parlors, or tanning pills, and try to stay out of direct sunlight--especially between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun's rays are the strongest.

Examine your skin monthly so you recognize any suspicious changes. The best time to do an exam is after a bath or a shower. Use a full-length and a hand mirror so you can check any moles, blemishes, or birthmarks from the top of your head to your toes. Note anything new--a change in size, shape, or color, or a sore that does not heal.

* Examine your body, front and back, in the mirror; then examine the right and left sides, with your arms raised.

* Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, your upper underarms, and your palms.

* Sit in a comfortable position, to look at the backs of your legs and the bottoms of your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes.

* Examine the back of your neck and your scalp with the help of a hand mirror; part your hair (or use a blow dryer) to lift it and give you a closer look.

Because of the possibility of malignant melanomas, all suspect moles should be biopsied--never cauterized or removed by excision without biopsy. If treated early, 90 percent of malignant melanomas can be cured. If treatment is not begun until after metastasis (spreading), the five-year survival rate drops to less than 10 percent. Early treatment is imperative.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1986
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Next Article:Life after melanoma; after the physical part of conquering cancer was over, the emotional part remained - and proved even more difficult.

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