Skin cancer is almost always curable when caught and treated early. So it’s critical to inspect your body.
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“Look at those funny brown things on your skin and see how large they are,” says melanoma expert Brian Gastman, MD. “Have they changed? Change is among the most important aspects, and change not only in width and diameter but also elevation.”
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Most of the time, it starts in a certain type of skin cell that produces melanin — the pigment that gives your skin its color. However, melanoma also can form in your eyes and, rarely, in internal organs such as your intestines.
Risk factors for melanoma
There are several risk factors that can make someone more likely to develop melanoma.
- Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays; sunlight is the main source of UV rays.
- Lots of moles.
- Having fair skin, blue or green eyes, or blonde or red hair.
- Having a family history of melanoma.
- You’ve already had melanoma.
- You have a weakened immune system.
- You are an older adult.
Know your skin
Most melanomas are black or brown, but they may also be skin-colored, pink, red or purple. In men, melanoma tends to appear on the trunk, while women are more likely to have it on the arms and legs.
Dr. Gastman recommends checking your skin each month, especially if you had sunburns as a child.
“If you had a history of significant sunburns and skin damage, be very extra vigilant and mindful of any changes and moles on your body,” Dr. Gastman says.
If you’re in a high-risk category, or you have any concerns about your risk for melanoma, talk to your primary care physician. He or she can refer you to a dermatologist if you see any skin changes or if your doctor sees a suspicious lesion during a routine exam, Dr. Gastman says.
Sunscreen reduces your risk of melanoma. It is important to understand how to use it properly, especially the need to reapply based on the SPF of the product.
When cancer spreads
The former president’s cancer is metastatic, meaning it has spread from the original site to distant parts of the body.
“Although not curable, metastatic melanoma is a disease with several new therapies to control growth, control symptoms and increase overall survival,” oncologist Dale Shepard, MD, PhD says.
Among them is a new class of therapies called immune checkpoint inhibitors, which recently have received approval for patients with metastatic melanoma, Dr. Shepard says. These drugs work by releasing your immune system’s natural brakes, which normally stop your immune system from going after healthy cells. Cancer cells take advantage of this trait to grow and spread, Dr. Shepard says.
The former president has said that he first will receive radiation for the brain metastases. “Given the small number of lesions and his good functional status, he is likely to tolerate the procedure well and have a good outcome,” Dr. Shepard says.