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April 26, 2013

Montefiore Expert Offers Tips on Prevention and Early Detection for May’s National Melanoma Awareness Month

NEW YORK (April 26, 2013) – This year alone, more than 77,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can be deadly if not detected early. Many people are under the impression that skin cancer only happens to fair-skinned people, but the truth is melanoma affects people of all ethnic backgrounds. It also is the number one cancer in people aged 25-29 and the fastest growing cancer in men and the second fastest in women in the nation.

As May’s National Melanoma Awareness Month approaches, it’s important to remember that protecting skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays significantly reduces risk of melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Additionally, recognizing early signs of the disease saves lives, with research showing a 95 percent cure rate in those instances. Karthik Krishnamurthy, D.O., chief dermatology consultant with the Melanoma Program at Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care, offers the following tips for the summer season and year round:

  • Give skin the once-over.  Just one full-body skin check by a physician can be a lifesaver. Additionally, monthly self-exams from the top of the head to the soles of the feet are highly effective in detecting early warning signs of melanoma, such as a mole that looks different.

“I remind patients of the ‘ABCDE’ rule to detect changes in a mole: A is for asymmetry, B is for border, C is for color, D is for diameter, and E is for evolving,” Dr. Krishnamurthy said. “Any suspicious-looking moles or moles that have changed shape or color should be looked at by a physician as soon as possible.”

  • Know your risk. Just one blistering sunburn, even in childhood, is enough to substantially increase a person’s lifelong risk for melanoma. Other risks include frequent sunbathing or indoor tanning, and a family history of melanoma. “Fair-skinned individuals with red or blond hair and light-colored eyes are also at higher risk,” Dr. Krishnamurthy said.  
  • Don’t assume darker skin makes one immune. A survey of 1,000 Hispanic adults in New York and Miami conducted by Dr. Krishnamurthy showed alarming misconceptions about perceived risk.

“Forty-six percent of people believed those with darker skin cannot get skin cancer, and 61 percent reported actively using tanning beds,” Dr. Krishnamurthy said. “This is very concerning because although melanoma is less common in darker-skinned individuals, there is a higher risk of late diagnosis with advanced melanomas and lower survival rates.”

  • Don’t skimp on sunscreen. Dermatologists recommend the equivalent of a shot glass full of sunscreen per application. Sunscreen should be reapplied about every two hours, especially after swimming or working out. Protective clothing, a hat with a broad brim and sunglasses will also protect skin from UV rays, especially during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

“Choose a sunscreen with broad spectrum protection that blocks both UVA and UVB radiation with an SPF of 30 or higher,” Dr. Krishnamurthy said.

  • Ban indoor tan. Some indoor tanning salons have marketed their services as promoting good health. “Don’t be fooled,” Dr. Krishnamurthy said. “Ultraviolet light from indoor tanning beds can cause skin cancer and premature aging just like the sun. Anyone can achieve a tan appearance safely with self-tanning products.”
  • Commit to year-round skin protection. Summer is peak time for sun exposure, but skin protection should be a year-round practice. “Water and snow can reflect and even intensify the sun’s UV rays and increase risk for sunburn and lasting damage,” Dr. Krishnamurthy said.

Dr. Krishnamurthy is director of the cosmetic clinic at Montefiore’s Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery and assistant professor of Dermatology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He provides general and cosmetic dermatologic care and specializes in prevention and detection of melanoma and other types of skin cancer in his role as chief dermatology consultant with the Melanoma/Sarcoma Program at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care.