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Melanoma in unusual places

3:08 PM, Jun 22, 2012   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- You may have spent the weekend at the beach, but here in Florida, we are exposed to UV rays year round, not just in the spring and summer when people elsewhere get to enjoy the outdoors.

As part of Melanoma Monday, a day when we remind you about your risk, doctors from Morton Plant Mease helped check out more than 200 people for free. About 120,000 new cases are diagnosed every year, and 9,000 die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.

"There's a population in their 20s and 30s that actually have a peak of melanoma, and then again in the elderly. It actually has two peaks to it and it is, in women, it's the second most common cancer in women in their 30s second only to breast cancer and one of the most common in women in their 20s," Moffitt Cancer Center's Dr. Ragini Kudchadkar said.

Believe it or not, melanoma is not just a skin disease. The most threatening form of skin cancer can be found in rare places, too. About 5 percent of those diagnosed will have ocular melanoma. That's right, you can have melanoma in your eye. Melanocytes in your skin and eyes change pigment in response to the sun -- that's how your skin tans. Those cells produce and contain the pigment melanin, and when those cells go awry, you can get melanoma.

"You can't control your genes, you can't control other things, but you definitely can control your amount of sun exposure," Dr. Kudchadkar said. "Sunglasses when you're driving in the bright sunshine or at the beach is always protected and using sunscreen, so SPF 30 or above and reapplying. A lot of my friends say it never works and usually it's because they put it on, and then they're out eight hours and they don't every put it on again."

Melanoma can also develop in your sinuses and even in the places that don't normally see the sun, so it's crucial to reapply sunscreen every two hours and wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection. You may notice changes in your vision when you hit middle age, but if you notice changes in only one eye, it's time to see an ophthalmologist to see if you have ocular melanoma.

Dr. Kudchadkar says about half of all ocular melanomas will become devastating metastatic cancer that most commonly spreads to the liver. She adds this is a great area of research because, unfortunately, no one knows the exact answer as to why it is likely to spread there versus other places in the body. The other half of ocular melanomas will be localized to the eye and can be treated with eye radiation or the eye will be removed.

Dr. Kudchadkar says the best thing you can do to prevent any melanoma is just to be aware and take precautions from the sun. Men and women need to scale down sun exposure and remember to wear sunblock SPF 30 or higher and put it on again after two hours in the sun.

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