The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 76,665 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in 2014 (the most recent data available). And, 9,324 people died from it. Melanoma skin cancer is the most serious kind of skin cancer, and one that family caregivers for seniors should be aware of.
How Melanomas Form
Melanomas start in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are responsible for making a skin pigment called melanin, which makes skin appear tan or brown. Melanin is necessary for protecting the bottom layers of the skin from the sun’s rays. Usually, the melanocytes simply produce more melanin when a person has been out in the sun, which is how people get tan. However, when cancer develops, melanocytes grow out of control and create a tumor. Because the melanocytes produce melanin, melanomas often appear black or brown. However, they can occasionally be pink, white, or tan.
Melanoma Risk Factors
Some of the things that can increase your parent’s risk of developing melanoma skin cancer are:
- Light Skin: People with lighter colored skin have less melanin, which means their skin can be more easily damaged by the sun. However, this doesn’t mean that people with darker skin cannot develop melanomas.
- Family History: If your parent has a close relative that has had melanoma skin cancer, their risk is elevated.
- Weak Immune System: People with immune systems that are weak can develop melanomas more easily.
- Sunburn: If your parent has been severely sunburned in the past, their risks are increased. Also, being overly exposed to UV rays, either from the sun or from tanning beds, makes melanoma more likely.
- Moles: People with many moles, 50 or more, have an increased risk.
Melanomas can be on any part of the body, but occur most often on parts of the body that are most often exposed to the sun. They may start as a change in a mole or be a new growth on the skin. The Mayo Clinic recommends using the letters ABCDE to help identify melanomas as follows:
- Asymmetrical Shape: Moles that have irregular shapes should be checked by a doctor.
- Border: Watch for moles that have an irregular border.
- Changes in Color: If a mole consists of different colors or has uneven color, talk to a doctor.
- Diameter: Look for new moles that are larger than a quarter of an inch in diameter.
- Evolving: Watch for changes in a mole. If a mole gets larger, changes shape, itches, or bleeds, see a doctor.
Although melanoma skin cancer is dangerous, when it is caught early, it can usually be cured. However, left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body and result in death. Family caregivers should keep an eye on their parent’s skin and report anything unusual to a doctor.
When you are in need of care for a senior loved one, consider caregivers provided by Golden Heart Senior Care. We have offices nationwide. For more information, call us today at (800) 601-2792.