Dear 16-Year Old Me

What Is Melanoma?

Melanoma accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths.

Melanoma is a malignant skin tumor that involves the skin cells that produce pigment and melanin.

  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds increases your risk of developing melanoma.
  • Because melanoma can spread to other parts of the body it is critical that it be identified as early as possible.
  • Melanoma is often curable if detected and treated in its early stages.
  • Melanoma is the number one cancer of women under 35.
  • On a per-case basis, Colorado has one of the highest incidence rates of melanoma in the country.
  • Melanoma is on the rise. The rates of melanoma have been rising rapidly over the past few decades.


The chance of developing melanoma increases with age. By protecting the skin during the first 18 years the risk of skin cancer can be reduced by 78%.

Things you can do to help prevent melanoma.

  • Schedule yearly skin cancer screening and examine skin monthly for early detection.
  • Wear SPF 15 and higher on exposed skin and wear sunglasses and hats.
  • Reduce amount of outside activities between 10am and 3pm.
  • Get screened annually, by a dermatologist for melanoma. Have your children screened. Encourage your friends, co-workers and loved ones to do so as well. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for late stage melanoma is about 20%. When detected early, however, that number jumps to over 90%.
  • Call your dermatologist and make an appointment. If you need assistance finding a good dermatologist, log onto (American Academy of Dermatology). They have a comprehensive, nationwide database. Alternatively, some hospitals & clinics offer free screenings.
  • Insist on having your whole body checked, including your scalp, the soles of your feet, the palms of your of hands, and even those places that aren't directly exposed to the sun! Melanoma is difficult to detect and does not only afflict those with fair skin and freckles.
  • Self-examinations are also critical. Knowing your skin, the moles, freckles and marks on your body and recognizing any change in their appearance, is essential to early detection. Spots on the skin that change in size, shape, texture, color or begin to bleed, or any new growths that appear, may indicate melanoma. If you notice these things, see your dermatologist right away. Again, early detection of melanoma can sometimes make the difference between life and death.

What To Look For

Follow your ABCDE's to check for melanoma

A is for Asymmetry

One half of the mole or lesion might not match the other.

B is for Border

The borders or edges could appear to be ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular.

C is for Color

The spot might having varying and/or uneven colors with black, brown, tan, pink, white, red, grey, and blue shades.

D is for Diameter

While melanomas are usually about the size of a pencil eraser (6 millimeters) in diameter, when diagnosed, they can be smaller.

E is for Evolving

The spot can appear to be evolving from the rest or seems to be changing size, shape, or color.

Online Resources

American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society is a nationwide voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer. They have lots of educational resources to learn more about melanoma and the latest research regarding melanoma.

Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic world-renowned nonprofit American medical center focused on care, education, and research. Detailed information on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of melanoma can be found here.

National Cancer Institute

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) coordinates the United States National Cancer Program and is part of the National Institues of Health (NIH). It is the oldest and largest budget research program of the NIH and has lots of great resources as well.