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Protecting Your Skin
By Daniel Casciato

Amy Diamond, MDMost people are aware that melanoma is a more serious form of skin cancer, but are you doing everything possible to prevent this disease?

One of the main culprits for melanoma and other skin diseases are tanning beds, according to Amy Diamond, MD, from the Washington Health System Family Medicine-Greene Plaza and Medical Director WHS Wound and Skin Healing Center.

Many people believe the UV rays of tanning beds do not pose as great a threat as sun overexposure. However, tanning lamps emit UV rays, which can cause long-term damage to your skin and can also contribute to melanoma or other forms of skin cancer.

"The risk of melanoma significantly increases when you use tanning beds, particularly if the person is younger than 35 years old," says Dr. Diamond. "Tanning beds produce ultraviolet A radiation which is known to be a risk factor for melanoma and has been classified by the WHO as a human carcinogen."

Other factors that put you in the high-risk category for melanoma include:

  • A more distant personal history of melanoma
  • A strong history of melanoma in your family
  • Genetic factors
  • More than 25 moles on your body
  • Presence of atypical moles
  • Excessive sunburns or tanning bed use in your past

"If you meet any of these criteria, you want to get annual skin checks either from your primary care physician or your dermatologist," says Dr. Diamond. "If you are identified as having a greater risk for melanoma, you may be required to go for more frequent visits." According to Dr. Diamond, look for the "ABCDE" signs of melanoma, used and recommended by the American

Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology. If you see one or more of these signs, call your doctor or dermatologist immediately:

  • Asymmetry - If you draw an imaginary line down the center of your mole, will both halves match? If they do not, it's asymmetrical which is a warning sign for melanoma
  • Border - The borders of a benign mole typically are smooth and even. Irregular borders could indicate melanoma.
  • Color - A variety of colors, even different shades of the same color, within your mole is a warning signal. A dark black mole is a warning sign as well.
  • Diameter - Another cause for concern is if the suspected lesion is greater than 6mm in diameter.
  • Elevation - The most important warning sign is if your mole changes size or texture, or begins to bleed.

It's not just melanoma you need to be concerned about. Other heat-related conditions/tanning bed conditions that you should be aware of include heat exhaustion, heat stroke, sun poisoning, fungal skin rashes, atopic dermatitis, and even advanced signs of aging, or wrinkles.

"To prevent melanoma and other skin conditions, we recommend that you avoid tanning beds, seek shade, wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen, at least SPF 15 or higher, broadly before going outside and remember to continually reapply if exposed to sun for prolonged time periods," says Dr. Diamond.

To ensure that you're receiving the best care possible, be sure that you are taking an active role in your own care as well, especially if you exhibit some of the risk factors mentioned above. In addition to keeping an eye out for skin and mole changes, tell your doctor about any concerns you have, such as excessive sun or tanning exposure, or a personal/family history of skin cancer.

Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get melanoma. Many people with one or more risk factors may never get melanoma, while others may have few or no known risk factors.

"If you're worried or have one of the risk factors, it may turn out to be nothing," says Dr. Diamond. "But we always recommend that if it's something that concerns you, call your doctor or dermatologist immediately and get checked out to be sure."

For more information, visit www.whs.org or to make an appointment with Dr. Amy Diamond, call (724) 627-8592.

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