M.Chavez MD, SC
2222 W. Division St, Suite 205, Wicker Park | (773) 227-3303

Preventing Melanoma

Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 12:19PM


As the summer season comes to an end, we close a chapter engaged in beach activities or just relaxing outdoors in the sun.   Soon we focus our attention on fall and winter seasons and become less mindful of our skin until next summer. But there are a few warm days still left, and we do enjoy travel to sunny areas in the winter months, so before we close this chapter on skin health, let’s review a thing or two about melanoma…

Melanoma is not the most common type of skin cancer but it is the most feared because it is not 100% preventable, it is difficult to detect and it can metastasize (spread) rapidly…. It develops in cells called melanocytes which produce melanin (the pigment responsible for giving your skin its color) through a process called malanogenesis.  It is not known what causes all melanomas but genetics and environmental causes play a large role.

Not all persons have the same risk of developing melanoma so prevention begins with detailed knowledge of 1) any newly formed moles, changes to preexisting moles and evolving congenital moles. 2) Your skin type also plays a role in the incidence of melanoma, 3) your exposure history to UV light through the years either from the sun, tanning beds or a combination of the two.  4) Immunosuppression from a variety of causes and 5) a family history of the following:

  • Family history of melanoma or other skin cancer
  • Family history of irregular, prominent moles
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer or astrocytoma
  • Family history of dysplastic nevus syndrome (multiple atypical moles)
  • Patient history of dysplastic nevus syndrome
  • History of previous melanoma
  • History of congenital moles
  • History of early and frequent use of tanning beds before the age of 30

Direct knowledge of your own history as well as your family’s history should raise any awareness to the potential for the development of melanoma and prompt a visit with your doctor to review your risk.  Your doctor should review this history with you and offer a full skin exam with discussion about any needed surveillance or the possibility of a biopsy.  Two common screening tools doctors use to assist them with suspicious moles include 1) The ABCDE rule and 2) The Ugly Duckling rule.  Both are very good screening tools and are meant to identify pre-melanotic and melanotic moles.

The price of prevention and early detection cannot be overstated:  a stage 1 melanoma carries up to a 95% survival.  A stage 4 melanoma carries less than a 20 % survival.  While early detection of Melanoma is good, prevention of pre-melanotic lesions from turning into melanoma is optimal.

Feel free to call us or come in for a free consultation.  Among the many services we offer include counseling on suspicious moles, mole mapping and incisional & excision biopsies for suspicious lesions and moles.

M. Chavez, MD, SC