Melanoma: The Tiny Killer

By Shannan O’Neil, Reporter

So… you don’t typically think something as tiny as a 3 millimeter mole can kill you, but it can if you’re not careful. Almost 9,000 people a year die from these small malignant melanomas which is a form of skin cancer, and since it can potentially be one of the most curable cancers, it means that the people who have died from it were not as careful or didn’t have the type of care that was necessary.

For people who don’t know, the sun gives off three types of UV rays, or ultra-violet rays, which are extremely powerful. Whether you know which ones they are, it doesn’t matter. If you’re laying out in the sun for five hours in the middle of July and not wearing sunscreen because you’re Sicilian and you don’t think you can get skin cancer, you’re wrong. Even though there was once speculation about sunscreen itself causing cancer, it’s probably your best bet to wear it anyway because the chances of getting skin cancer are much more likely than getting some type of chemical related cancer.

Melanoma directly affects me actually, not because I’m Irish and pale and get a lot of freckles during the summer or burn easily. My grandfather who was half Irish, half Polish died from a malignant melanoma. It wasn’t because he didn’t know he had a mole until he got really sick; it was because when the melanoma was removed, the doctors didn’t check if the cancer had spread, which it had. The cancer had metastasized to his lymph nodes. He passed away two years later.

To make a generalization, melanoma is found mostly in people of European descent, but the highest percentage of melanoma fatalities are of African or other black descents, or Pacific-Islanders. No one would probably think that since they’re not pale and have the most amount of melanin in their skin, that’s because even they don’t realize they can get skin cancer. The melanomas that these people have are usually found at the bottom of their feet, in between their fingers, in their mouth or on their eyes (which is a very rare cancer called ocular melanoma) because those areas have the least amount of melanin.

Melanoma isn’t always a direct result from the sun. Like the darker skin people show, melanomas can be found in strange places, for white or lighter-colored people too. For some it may be hereditary as well as a mutation from the sun.

Don’t go tanning. Pale is pretty.

If you have many visible moles, you probably have some you don’t know about as well. Seeing a dermatologist once or maybe even twice a year (if you want to be careful or know how melanoma running in your family) is super important! To remove a pre-cancerous mole is extremely easy to do. They numb the skin and shave it off with a scalpel, send it back to the lab, and test it for mutations. It sounds utterly nasty, but it’s worth it when you don’t get cancer.

So if you’re Italian and you don’t think you can get skin damage and you go out in the summer without sunscreen, you’re not only Italian but you’re also not the brightest person in the world.

The moral of the day is to be safe. Yes, if you’re not careful, a 3 millimeter mole can kill you.