Today, the world celebrates Melanoma Monday. This special day is set aside to raise awareness in regards to melanoma, its causes and symptoms. You can join the movement by wearing orange, and you can also play your part by learning more about the disease. 

Most of us are terrified when we hear the word melanoma. The words skin cancer are the first to come to mind, and terrifying images flash in our heads. In reality, we are unaware of the true reality and ways to reduce our risk and prevent the disease.

So let’s break it down. Here are the four main types of melanoma:

1. Superficial spreading melanoma

This is the most common type of skin cancer. According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, it accounts for approximately 70% of melanoma cases. It’s also the most visible because it grows horizontally across the skin. While it may be visible on the top layer of the skin, it moves deeper into the other skin layers. The deeper into the skin it goes, the more danger it poses.

Superficial spreading melanoma is relatively easy to spot. While you may find it on any part of the body, there are signs that you can look for to catch it early. The melanoma is easily identifiable by its shape. If you have a freckle or mole that grows horizontally and appears lopsided, you should carefully track its growth. 

The color and location can also help you identify melanoma. The freckle can appear in various colors, but you should be wary of any color that isn’t brown or black. The risk is even higher if the freckle changes color over time. The freckle/mole can be located on the torso (on men) or the legs (on women). In some cases, it can appear on the upper back for both men and women. 

2. Lentigo maligna melanoma

Lentigo maligna is the more invasive skin cancer. It’s the rarest type of melanoma, and it starts by growing on the skin’s surface. It is harmless when it’s on the outer surface, and it grows cancerous once it penetrates the top layer. 

It starts by growing slowly but quickly spreads when it turns invasive. Lentigo maligna is relatively difficult to spot because it appears with age. It looks natural at first, but a closer look will determine whether to raise the alarm. It has similar symptoms to superficial melanoma, but the color will be blue-black. 

Like the superficial spreading melanoma, it often appears on the surface space. However, it is better at disguising itself. It would be best if you watched out for it on your ears, upper torso, and face. 

3. Nodular melanoma

Nodular melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It spreads aggressively and is often caught when it is in its late stage. This is rather unfortunate because it has a high survival rate when caught in the early stages. 

Nodular melanoma is the easiest to spot. It grows vertically, so the mole appears as a bump on the skin. You are more likely to notice nodular melanoma than the other types. It is easy to tell the difference by looking at the shape, the color, and undefined edges. 

Unlike other types of melanoma, nodular melanoma shows up as new growth. It is easy to identify because of the fast pace at which it grows. This type of melanoma commonly occurs in the upper body, especially the neck and head. Birthmarks and benign moles are soft when touched, but if the new growth feels hard, you should probably get it checked out by a medical professional. 

4. Acral lentiginous melanoma

Acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) is the most common form of skin cancer amongst people of color. It appears as a dark stain, so it isn’t easy to catch early on. You may think of it as just a bruise, but it may indicate worse. 

The fastest way to catch ALM is to look at the borders around the bruise. If the edges are highly pronounced and there is a clear difference between the dark skin and your normal skin, then you may be at risk. 

The struggle with ALM is that it appears in places that are hard to spot. It can appear on the soles of the feet, the hand, on fingernails, or toenails. You may think the bruise is natural when it first appears, but you should track its growth, just in case. 

Now that we have spoken about how to spot melanoma, here are ways to reduce your risk and prevent melanoma: 

1. Wear sunscreen 

Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight is one of the leading causes of skin cancer. Slapping on some SPF before you go outside could be a game-changer. Don’t forget to also apply sunscreen on cloudy days and during winter. Just because we don’t feel them, doesn’t mean that the sun’s harmful rays aren’t at work. 

2. Avoid tanning beds

The common misconception is that that tanning beds are harmless, and yet they emit dangerous UV rays. Exposing direct skin to the UV rays at such a close distance (for extended periods) increases the risk of melanoma by 75%. We advise you to look for safer and more effective ways to get a healthy glow. 

3. Wear protective clothing

Wearing protective clothing is a surefire way of protecting yourself from direct sunlight. Wearing a shirt, a hat, and sunglasses go a long way toward protecting you from dangerous UV rays. An action that seems futile at the moment could make a massive difference in the future.

4. Stay in the shade

The best way to keep yourself safe when you go outside is to avoid standing or sitting in direct sunlight. It may feel great at the moment, but it can also have long-term effects on the skin. You can enjoy the beautiful outdoors while reducing your risk of melanoma.  

The best way to celebrate #MelanomaMonday is by keeping yourself safe and raising awareness for the disease. Melanoma Monday is a reminder to regularly examine your skin for any defects. Early detection and early treatment save lives.  Don’t forget to rock your orange outfit and spread the word! 

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  • Tanatswa Chivhere

    Tanatswa Chivhere is a Journalism graduate who is passionate about the art of storytelling. She believes that stories make us who we are, and every story deserves to be told. Tanatswa's mission is to give African stories a global platform. When she is not consumed by this mission, she enjoys watching Grey's Anatomy and listening to podcasts.

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