Melanoma and the Sun
By Nancy Steinbach
This is the VOA Special English Science Report.
When the weather is warm and sunny, people around the world spend more time outside. However, doctors have been warning for years that being in the sun for too long can burn the skin. It can also cause more serious health problems, including skin cancer.
The World Health Organization says two-hundred-thousand cases of the most serious kind of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, develop each year. More than fifty-thousand Americans are expected to develop melanoma this year. The American Cancer Society says almost eight-thousand Americans will die from the disease this year.
Malignant melanoma begins in body cells that produce a brown color. It usually first grows in a small dark area of skin called a mole. Melanoma most often is recognized as a dark area with an unusual shape.
An operation to remove the cancerous cells can cure melanoma if the cancer has not spread. Doctors treat melanoma that has spread with chemotherapy. The drugs kill any cancer cells that were not removed in the operation. Radiation also may be used to kill cancerous cells and reduce the size of any cancerous growths.
The five-year survival rate for melanoma that has spread to the lymph nodes is thirty to forty percent. It is only twelve percent if the cancer has spread to other organs.
Doctors say too much sunlight can cause melanoma. This is especially true for people who have light skin and were burned by the sun when they were young. Some people are more likely than others to develop melanoma. These include people whose family members had the disease. They also include people who have a large number of moles on their bodies.
Doctors say people should always protect their skin from sunlight. They should wear a hat and protective clothing. They should use a sun protection liquid. Doctors also say everyone should examine their bodies often for any changes in moles or the presence of new ones. They should go to a doctor if any mole has an unusual shape or if it has several different colors. Another warning sign of melanoma is a mole that is larger than six millimeters across.