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Melanoma Awareness Month: A Doctor’s Perspective

Guest blog from Dr. Amy Wechsler, board-certified dermatologist and psychiatrist:

dr bio img@xWhen I was asked to write this blog post for the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) about melanoma, my aim was to raise awareness and focus on prevention. As a dermatologist and psychiatrist, I often wonder what keeps many people from embracing preventative medicine – i.e., avoiding screening tests of all kinds including skin cancer checks, mammograms, annual checkups with labs, colonoscopies, etc. – since prevention is so much better than waiting for a disease to develop. I think it’s a combination of fear and denial, both of which I try to address with my patients in the office. However, sometimes it’s getting them to come in in the first place that’s tricky. In 2021, over 207,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma, and more than half will be invasive. Our goal as dermatologists is to find melanomas when they are small and not yet invasive (melanoma in situ), so that removing them is almost always curative and without the risk of metastasis.   

The risk for developing a melanoma is a combination of genetics (family history) and environmental factors, like for most health issues. In addition to annual skin cancer checks, there are important lifestyle habits that can help prevent melanoma. Never go to a tanning bed as just one session increases the risk of melanoma by 75%. Hopefully tanning beds will be banned in the US someday soon – so far only Australia and Brazil have banned them. Wear a broadspectrum sunscreen daily, seek shade, wear hats and sunglasses and cover up as much as possible. Sun protective clothing is becoming more fashionable, but I would love to see its acceptance become more mainstream. I think that can happen if fashion brands designed stylish rash guards and social media embraced this. For those that want to appear tan, self-tanners are safe, and there are plenty that are cosmetically elegant. Since UVA rays are not blocked by glass, you can apply UVA blocking films to your car and home windows, and these can be clear or tinted. Every time I buy or lease a new car, I have these applied. Do a skin exam on yourself and your partner and see a dermatologist once a year and anytime you find a growth on your skin that you are worried about (see melanoma.org for warning signs).   

I wish everyone a safe and healthy Skin Cancer Awareness Month! 


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