The Friday before Memorial Day is Don’t Fry Day, a time to remind people at the start of summer about the dangers from exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is always a dangerous threat and is the most common cancer among young adults aged 25-29. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) SunWise program and the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention have partnered to provide simple tips on protecting yourself that could save lives. Melanocytes are cells that produce the dark pigment, melanin, which is responsible for the color of skin. They predominantly occur in skin, but are also found in other parts of the body, including the bowel and the eye. Melanoma is a malignant tumor of melanocytes.
One American dies from skin cancer every hour. It is the most common type of cancer in the United States, where skin cancer affects more than two million people each year, outnumbering the cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop the disease in their lifetime. Over exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer.
The earliest stage of melanoma starts when the melanocytes begin to grow out of control.
Melanocytes are found between the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis) and the next layer (the dermis). This early stage of the disease is called the radial growth phase, and the tumor is less than 1mm thick.
Because the cancer cells have not yet reached the blood vessels lower down in the skin it is very unlikely that this early-stage cancer will spread to other parts of the body. If the melanoma is detected at this stage then it can usually be completely removed with surgery.
When the tumor cells start to move in a different direction — vertically up into the epidermis and into the papillary dermis - the behavior of the cells changes dramatically.
The next step in the evolution is the invasive radial growth phase, which is a confusing term, however it explains the next step in the process of the radial growth, when individual cells start to acquire invasive potential. This step is important — from this point on the melanoma is capable of spreading.
The following step in the process is the invasive melanoma — the vertical growth phase. The tumor attains invasive potential, meaning it can grow into the surrounding tissue and can spread around the body through blood or lymph vessels. The tumor thickness is usually more than 1 mm (0.04 in), and the tumor involves the deeper parts of the dermis.
Visual diagnosis of melanomas is still the most common method employed by health professionals. To detect melanomas, it is recommended to learn what they look like, to be aware of moles and check for changes (shape, size, color, itching or bleeding) and to show any suspicious moles to a doctor with an interest and skills in skin malignancy.
Although skin cancer risk factors are always present even during the winter, the dangers are greater during the summer months, when the days are longer and more people are outside for longer periods of time.
For Don’t Fry Day, (May 27 this year), EPA encourages Americans to take these few, easy precautions when they are outside:
- Slip, Slop, Slap, Wrap. Slip on a shirt. Slop on SPF 15+ sunscreen. Slap on a hat, and wrap on sunglasses to protect your body from overexposure to the sun
- Seek shade. Find shade during the sun’s peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to reduce the risk of too much sun exposure
- Check the UV Index. When planning outdoor activities check the UV Index to identify the times that pose the greatest risk for overexposure to the sun
More information on Don’t Fry Day and additional sun safety resources: http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/dfd.html