Drs. Curtis Asbury and Sara Moghaddam provide answers to protect you against the dangers of melanoma
Melanoma is the most common deadly cancer here on the Eastern Shore. May is Melanoma Awareness Month, so we asked local board-certified dermatologists Dr. Curtis Asbury and Dr. Sara Moghaddam from Delmarva Skin Specialists in Selbyville about the disease and what you need to know about it.
What is melanoma, and why is it so serious?
CA: Melanoma is an uncontrolled growth of the pigmented cells in our skin. Usually, melanomas can look black or brown, but a small percentage of them can be pink or flesh-colored. It is serious because advanced melanoma can spread through lymphatics to other parts of the body, including bones, the brain and other organs. In the U.S., almost one person dies from melanoma every hour.
What causes melanoma?
SM: Ultraviolet light, whether from the sun or an artificial source, such as a tanning bed, is the major cause of melanoma. Other things that can contribute to developing melanoma are a genetic predisposition or someone who has a lowered immune system. Using tanning beds can increase your risk of melanoma by 59% and increases with each use. Melanoma can occur anywhere, but the most common location is the back. In our area, I especially see melanomas on the legs of women.
Who gets melanoma?
SM: This is important: Anyone can get melanoma, young or old, fair or dark-skinned. A history
of blistering sunburns as a teenager or excessive sun exposure throughout one’s lifetime are key risk factors that determine who will get melanoma. Being outdoors is deeply ingrained in our community, which is why we see so many cases here on the Eastern Shore. Other factors, including fair skin, light hair or eyes, or multiple preexisting moles on your body can increase
What should someone look for on their skin?
CA: We all hear about the ABCDEs of melanoma, which represent spots that have Asymmetry, irregular Borders, Color irregularity and Diameter larger than the eraser of a pencil, and Evolution and change of a lesion. I always tell patients to look out for an “ugly duckling” or something that doesn’t look like any of the other spots on their skin. Any outliers should definitely be evaluated. In general, normal moles do not develop after the age of 35, so if you see something new developing, it probably needs evaluation.
What if someone is worried that they have skin cancer?
CA: Schedule a skin exam with a board-certified dermatologist; they are the experts in skin cancer detection. It is important to have the spot of concern evaluated, but also a thorough skin cancer screening is appropriate. I can’t tell you how many times someone comes in for a certain spot, but we find a different spot during skin screening that is cancer. Dermatologists spend at least three years training in skin cancer detection, so they will easily be able to determine if the spot is normal or if it is suspicious and needs a biopsy.
What is one surprising thing about melanoma that most people wouldn’t know?
CA: People tend to think that if they are tan, they are less at risk of melanoma. Although sunburns are notorious for causing skin cancer, tanning also damages the DNA in your skin cells, causing cancer. I have treated many dark-skinned, olive-toned, and African American patients for melanoma.
SM: The most unique places I’ve found melanoma was the bottom of the foot, in a fingernail and in the scalp where hair was hiding the cancer.
What is the most important take-home point about melanoma?
CA: The majority of melanomas are easily treated when detected early. There are also more systemic therapies becoming available through research for patients who have metastatic melanoma. When at earlier stages, most melanomas are treated with simple, in-office procedures. Don’t be scared to get something on your skin checked out — it could just save your life.