Most deaths from skin cancer are due to melanoma, which is when a skin cell that normally confers pigment to the hair and skin (melanocyte) becomes derailed and starts to grow autonomously. To become a melanoma, cells must go through a number of steps, usually beginning with the formation of a mole. Moles are limited growths that remain static, unless triggered to become malignant by additional DNA damage. This is why we need to watch them closely.

Actions and options to prevent melanoma

  • Keep a close eye on your moles
    • By closely monitoring any moles, you can identify if growth is no longer restricted and a cancer may be forming. If you have a mole or unusual freckle that is new or has changed in shape, size or color (e.g. dark brown to black, blue-black or red), you should get it checked.
    • The earlier a cancer is identified and treated, the better your chance of avoiding surgery, disfigurement or death. Early detection is good protection
    • Get an annual total-body examination of your skin
  • It’s hard to keep an eye on everything. You should make sure you get checked all over every year
  • Protect yourself against solar damage – ultraviolet and infrared light are the most important causes of DNA damage in the skin. Do what you can to limit your exposure to harmful rays:
  • Get an annual total-body examination of your skin
  • Wear hats and protective clothing (even on cloudy days)
  • Use broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen (apply every 2 hours when exposed). Make sure it is protective against UVA rays as well
  • Avoid unprotected sun exposure (especially 11am to 2pm)
  • Don’t use tanning salons

Last Reviewed 02/Mar/2014

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Dr Merlin Thomas

Professor Merlin Thomas is Professor of Medicine at Melbourne’s Monash University, based in the Department of Diabetes. He is both a physician and a scientist. Merlin has a broader interest in all aspects of preventive medicine and ageing. He has published over 270 articles in many of the worlds’ leading medical journals
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