It began as one of those fashionable “letter to the sixteen-year-old-me” visual blogs. Older, and presumably wiser, people gave the usual ‘If I knew then what I know now’ spiel.
And then, it got serious, to the point of grimness.
To those of us who spent halcyon childhoods in and out of the sea from March till November, it was a shock to the system. And so, I think, will it be to anyone who considers roasting in the sun, or on a sunbed, the excellent way to acquire a “healthy” tan.
Malta is blessed with an inordinate amount of sunshine that attracts cats, locals, and tourists alike. Tan tidemarks indicate favourite flip-flops, sleeve-length, and wedding bands – and we acquire these without even trying.
There was a time when ABCD (Asymmetry; Border; Colours; Diameter) was the standard mnemonic for the clinical diagnosis of melanoma. These days, it is no longer considered ‘enough’ – and although some diagnosticians add E (Elevated), more contemporary-minded doctors add F (Funny) to drive the point further home, and the modern trend is to add T (Time).
Some pencils have erasers; there was a time when their circumference used to be considered the ‘alarm size’ for getting suspicious skin lesions or pigmented marks checked. However, this, too, has changed. So has the condition that melanomas only occur in places that have been sunburned in the past.
A “beauty spot”, a “freckle” or a “mole” that changes in any of the following ways must be checked out.
Asymmetry: not a circular shape, but like a map, or one of those childhood drawings of amoebas. Basically, this means that there sis nowhere you can draw a line to have matching halves.
Border: the border is irregular border, sometimes higher on one side than on the other.
Colour: the ‘stain’ on the skin has more than one colour. Pigmentation may range from pink to dark brown.
Diameter: not necessarily larger than the aforementioned pencil eraser; especially if it appears to be growing larger each time you look at it.
Enlargement, Elevation, or Evolution: even if it is not as raised or rough as a scab from an injury, a mole that has a raised surface might spell trouble.
Funny: Call it instinct, call it extra-sensory perception – but if you feel that a perfectly innocent-looking mole may be harbouring a secret, you may be right.
Time: if you keep an eye on your pigmented areas, you might notice that the shape, colour, or texture of the surface changes over time; also, the place where you have the pigmentation could be more sensitive to touch.
Other risk factors include: bleeding when the area knocks against a surface, or even rubs against clothes;
A family member with melanoma or any other type of skin cancer;
Burning rather than tanning after exposure to the sun;
Having more than 40 moles over the body;
Having a lot of moles with uneven pigmentation and / or irregular shapes;
Sudden or gradual changes in the patch, such as itching, flaking or oozing of blood or pus;
People with any shade of red and blonde hair, any shade of green and blue eyes, and fair skin and freckles must watch their skin even more carefully than the rest of us. The lack of melanin makes these persons especially susceptible to melanoma.
One also needs to keep outliers or “ugly ducklings” in the crosshairs. This ‘atypical mole’ is the odd (!) mole that is different from the rest of those on the same body, which are usually similar in thickness, shape, and colour.
One must note that it is not only deliberate sunbathing that may cause the development of melanoma. Activities that take place in the sun – jogging, farming, chores such as cleaning windows or hanging out the clothes, racing, boating, building and gardening, also mean that a person spends a longer time in the sun than is good for him.
Tanning booths are actually machines that provide potentially lethal long-term exposure to artificial sources of ultraviolet rays. This intensifies any damage caused by sunlight, since ultraviolet light thins the skin, making it less capable of healing itself.
And let us not forget that people may even get addicted to the very idea of being tanned, where flippant remarks like “If I get cancer, I get cancer. At least I’ll look good,” are said with the utmost sincerity.
This, of course, comes from Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, where 16-year-old traveller Sammy Jo said she uses sunbeds three times weekly.
Indeed, the classic CAGE (Cut Down, Annoyed, Guilty, and Eye-opener) questionnaire, originally created to help identify alcohol abuse was re-formulated with UV light substance abuse or dependence disorders in mind.
The feelings of those who felt tanned was the only way to be clearly indicated that sometimes, the feel-good factor associated with tanning was skin to those of substance abuse, including smoking. There is even preliminary evidence showing that if the “high” from expose is no longer attainable, there are withdrawal symptoms similar to that from opioid drugs (such as heroin).
Besides, some researchers think that this madness is another symptom of body dysmorphic disorder.
Of course, an extreme lack of exposure to the sun may lead to conditions such as rickets – and a yearning for sunlight may be the body’s way of ridding itself the symptoms of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
The amount of sun we ordinarily get during the course of the day ought to be enough to keep us safe rather than make us sorry.
If you still think you ought to watch the video clip, please go to: http://dcmf.ca/ .