The month of May has been established as Melanoma Awareness Month. The National Public Health Agency marks the beginning of Melanoma Awareness Month by participating in public awareness and education about the disease, prevention measures and screening for it.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer and the deadliest of them. It develops mainly in the cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin – the pigment that gives the skin its color. It usually appears as a small black spot on the skin or may develop over a pre-existing mole. Early diagnosis of melanoma and new treatments have led to very good therapeutic results with a five-year survival rate of over 90%.

Epidemiological Data

In 2020 alone, approximately 325,000 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed worldwide and approximately 57,000 people died from the disease. Australia and New Zealand have the highest incidence of melanoma followed by Western Europe, North America and Northern Europe while melanoma is still rare in most African and Asian countries. In Greece in 2020 there were 1,313 new cases of melanoma with the disease being the 14th most common malignant neoplasm in the Greek population.

The risk of melanoma increases with age. However, melanoma is not uncommon even in people under the age of 30 as it is the second most common cancer in people aged 15-34. Men are at a higher risk of developing melanoma than women. This is due to both behavioral (more sun exposure and less sun protection) and biological factors (thicker skin with less subcutaneous fat).

Risk factors

The following factors may increase the risk of developing melanoma:

  • Excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Exposure to UV radiation, which comes from the sun and from tanning lamps or beds, can increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma. Six out of ten cases of melanoma are due to excessive sun exposure.
  • Light skin. Having less pigment (melanin) in your skin means you have less protection from harmful UV rays. However, melanoma can also develop in people with a darker complexion.
  • History of sunburn
  • Living near the equator or at a higher altitude. People who live closer to the earth’s equator, where the sun’s rays are more direct, experience higher amounts of UV radiation than those who live further north or south. In addition, if you live at a high altitude, you are exposed to more UV radiation.
  • Presence of many moles or unusual moles
  • Family history of melanoma
  • Weakened immune system

Early diagnosis – Diagnosis

The appropriate information of the population regarding prevention and the increase of public vigilance for the disease are the basis of early diagnosis. Particular attention and vigilance is recommended for people with risk factors. Skin cancer is diagnosed by a specialist doctor (dermatologist, surgeon or oncologist). Specifically in the case of melanoma, the diagnosis is based on the ABCDE guide (first 5 letters of the English alphabet): Asymmetry (asymmetry in the shape of the mole), Border (unclear boundaries), Color (unevenness of color), Diameter (diameter), Evolving ( development and change of mole).
Preventive Measures

  • We are protected from UV rays all year round and not only in summer as they can reach us (through reflection from surfaces such as water, cement, sand or snow) and on cloudy days.
  • We stay in the shade as much as possible.
  • We choose clothes that cover our arms and legs.
  • We wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the head, face, ears, neck and nape.
  • When outdoors during the day, don’t forget to wear sunglasses with suitable lenses that block UVA and UVB rays.
  • We use a daily sunscreen with an appropriate UV protection factor (higher than SPF 15 and ideally higher than SPF 30) depending on the time of day or the duration of our exposure to the sun.
  • We avoid artificial tanning/exposure to sources of UV radiation.
  • Any change in skin color after exposure to UV radiation (whether a tan or a burn) is a sign of injury, not health.
  • We go to our dermatologist regularly (for a neviogram/mapping of body moles) but also in case we notice changes in our skin such as the identification of a wound that does not heal, the appearance of a new mole or a change in the boundaries, size/diameter, the color and generally in its development.