Melanoma Fact Sheet
Understanding and Preventing Skin Cancer
The South African Melanoma Advisory Board, in partnership with Vichy Laboratoires, has published guidelines on how to recognise and treat melanomas, and also runs an ongoing awareness campaign to educate members of the medical profession as well as the general public on the prevention of skin cancer.
The South African Melanoma Advisory Board is a multi-disciplinary forum with representation from all the disciplines involved in managing a malignant melanoma – dermatologists, oncologists, pathologists and plastic surgeons.
Dr Dagmar Whitaker, the president of The South African Melanoma Advisory Board, says: “People can continue to enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle and still protect themselves from contracting skin cancer. We just need to adapt our behaviour. It's about enjoying the sun, but doing so responsibly.”
What is metastatic melanoma?
Metastatic means the melanoma is at a stage where the malignancy has spread from the skin to internal organs. Even today treatment is not always successful and fewer than 10% of patients survive longer than 10 years. Early detection, before the cancer starts to spread, is therefore extremely important.
Who is most at risk?
- People who have a family history of melanoma and atypical moles (with irregular borders, or varying colour and asymmetrical) are more likely to develop into a melanoma.
- People who have more than 50 ordinary moles. Most people have between 10 and 40 moles. Dr Dagmar Whitaker says: “Also people who have more than five atypical moles.”
- Those with fair hair and skin, freckles and light coloured eyes. For example, white men are three times more likely to develop melanoma than black men.
- People who have had one or more severe cases of sunburn as a child or teenager.
- Those whose immune system is weakened by other cancers, drugs or HIV/AIDS.
- People who use a sunbed frequently.
How to help prevent melanoma
- Avoid exposure to the sun between 9am and 4pm. As few as three blistering sunburns can cause transformation from a normal cell into a cancerous cell,” Dr Whitaker says.
- If you have a family history of melanoma, have a skin check-up every six months. “For example, mole mapping is a computerised screening process where we can pick up changes of less than a millimetre between visits – and early diagnosis is the only way to prevent a theoretically disastrous outcome. A melanoma of more than 1mm thickness can spread and kill you in six months,” Dr Whitaker says.
- Use a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF). Sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or higher provide the best protection against sunburn.
- Melanoma can also occur in the eyes, so wear sunglasses with UV-absorbing lenses. The label should specify that the lenses block at least 99% of UVA and UVB radiation.
- Early detection of a changing mole or skin lesion is key in preventing or treating melanoma. Consult your doctor as soon as you notice any changes.
- “Children are most vulnerable because 80% of the lifetime UV exposure takes place in the first 20 years of your life. Invest in sun-protective clothing for young kids and apply sunscreen on all exposed skin. Never allow your child to get sunburnt,” says Dr Whitaker.
- Babies under a year old should never be exposed to direct sunlight.
Melanoma warning signs
The first sign of a developing melanoma is a mole that changes in colour or shape or feel. A melanoma can also appear as a new dark spot – statistically melanoma starts in normal skin rather than from a mole.
Use the ABCDE method to remember what to watch for:
- Asymmetry – the shape of one half doesn't match the other.
- Border – the edges are often ragged and the outline irregular, and the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
- Colour – the colour is uneven. Shades of black, brown or red can be present.
- Diameter – there's a change in size, usually an increase.
- Elevation – irregular raised area in a mole.
Also, look out for a suddenly discoloured area under a fingernail or toenail not caused by an injury.
In 2010, Vichy is proud to be able to develop it's educational mission, by forming a unique partnership with he South African Melanoma Advisory Board
Enquiries : Dr Dagmar Whitaker
South African Melanoma Advisory Board
Submitted by: Debra de Wet /Bontle Tsikwe
Redline – a division of Draftfcb
Reference: pr 03 – Melanoma factsheet