May is Melanoma Awareness Month. Now is a good time to learn about this mysterious and potentially fatal disease.
Melanoma is a dangerous type of cancer that can form in the cells that give our skin pigment. Interestingly, it is more common in people with less pigment, in fact it is 20 times more common in light-skinned vs. dark-skinned individuals. New Hampshire has the third-highest rate of melanoma in the U.S., behind Utah, Delaware and tied with Minnesota. We expect New Hampshire to have 450 new cases of the disease in 2019.
Melanoma is caused by sun and UV exposure. It tends to occur in older people, but it can affect young people too. Sunburns but particularly tanning bed use increases a young person’s risk of getting melanoma. Gender is also a factor. Nationally, about 30 percent of young women, but only 6 percent of young men use tanning services. As a result, melanoma is more likely to strike young women than young men. Melanoma is much more curable when caught early. There is a 98 percent cure rate if it is caught early vs. only a 20 percent cure rate if it has already spread to other organs.
Melanoma often starts from a dark-colored mole. To protect yourself, have any mole that grows, changes shape, changes, color, or bleeds checked by a doctor. If your doctor does a biopsy and it turns out to be melanoma, you should see a dermatologist or plastic surgeon to have it fully removed. Plastic surgeons are particularly well-equipped to treat melanoma because they can remove the melanoma and perform reconstructive procedures to help minimize scarring and preserve function.
As the sun strengthens, remember to use lots of at least SPF 30 sunscreen and reapply it every 2 hours while outside this summer!
Dr. Todd Burdette is a board certified plastic surgeon. His main clinical pursuits are breast reconstruction and skin cancer reconstruction. He also treats patients with burns, soft tissue tumors, congenital deformities, and injuries to the face and body. Frequently, he collaborates on complex reconstructive cases with surgeons in other specialties. His surgical interests also include cosmetic surgery to rejuvenate the eyelids, face, breasts and body. His office is located Elliot at River’s Edge, 185 Queen City Avenue, Manchester and the phone number is 603-314-6450.