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Melanoma Awareness Month: Gundersen dermatologist offers prevention tips, warning signs
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Melanoma Awareness Month: Gundersen dermatologist offers prevention tips, warning signs

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Sunshine provides a healthy boost of vitamin D, but prolonged, frequent exposure of ultraviolet rays can be dangerous, potentially leading to skin cancer.

April Farrell

Dr. April Farrell

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports 20% of Americans will develop skin cancer, with over two people dying each hour from the disease. With May marking Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Gundersen Health System dermatologist Dr. April Farrell reminds youth and adults to keep their SPF handy, their hats on and their tanning bed use nonexistent.

Basal cell carcinoma is both the most common form of skin cancer, with around 3.6 million cases diagnosed annually. Slow to develop and spread, BCC may resemble a pimple or lesion which doesn’t heal and may bleed. Melanoma generally appears as a brown or black, asymmetrical mark. Around 20% of melanoma develops from an existing mole.

“You want to watch for moles that seem to be changing, whether they change color or start to itch or bleed, grow rapidly — those would be warning signs, but most melanoma are brand new spots,” Farrell says.

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Melanoma is the most common cancer among younger women, but uncommon in the pediatric sector, with only around 2 to 3% of cases appear in kids. The risk of melanoma and BCC increases with age, diagnosed on average in the mid-60s age group.

Up to 90% of skin cancers are caused by UV rays, Farrell says, and just five occurrences of sunburn, or a single blistering sunburn, can double your chance of developing melanoma. Applying sunscreen amply and frequently is essential for prevention, says Farrell, who also advises wearing a hat, protective clothing and avoiding being outside during peak sunlight hours.

Swift treatment of skin cancer is crucial, as cases detected early have a high survival rate of over 95% at the five year mark. If the disease spreads to the lymph nodes, the rate drops to around 66%, and to just 27% if the cancer has reached distant organs, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports.

Most commonly, treatment involves surgical removal of the affected portion of skin. During Mohs surgery, thin layers of cancer afflicted skin are removed and examined in progressive increments until only cancer-free tissue remains. If Melanoma is not caught until it is deep or has spread, lymph nodes may need to be removed and chemotherapy or immunotherapy may be necessary.

“Most people will survive with early detection and treatment,” Farrell says. “That’s why early detection is so important.”

Emily Pyrek can be reached at


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