A dermatologist visit was not on my radar, but a friend briefly mentioned that she was going to the doctor for some pre-cancerous spots. Her passing comment stuck with me. So, on a whim, I made an appointment. I really wasn’t worried about anything – this was just to be on the safe side. However, it turned out that this casual conversation sparked a serious discovery. After a full body check and 23 skin biopsies, it was determined that I had two melanoma, four normal and 17 pre-cancerous diagnoses. The doctor removed a softball-size section of skin from my shoulder that was luckily caught in time – and all thanks to a random discussion with a friend.
Skin cancer wasn’t on my radar. So now I love to talk about my scars! I want to be the random conversation that triggers someone else to schedule a skin check.
Skin Cancer Basics
Most skin cancers are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. These are malignant, but usually don’t spread to other parts of the body. If not treated early, they can cause local disfigurement. A small number of skin cancers are malignant melanomas. These are very aggressive, often spread to other parts of the body and can be fatal if not treated early. They are the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Below are some additional facts about Melanoma according to the Melanoma Research Foundation:
- Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S.
- One American dies from melanoma every hour (that’s approximately 10,000 people per year).
- It is estimated that over 178,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2018. Of these, approximately 91,000 will be diagnosed with invasive (stage 1, 2, 3 or 4) melanoma and another 87,000 will be diagnosed with melanoma in situ (stage 0), which means the cancer cells haven’t grown into deeper layers of the skin.
- Melanoma is not just limited to the skin. It can develop anywhere on the body – eyes, scalp, nails, feet, mouth, etc.
- Melanoma does not discriminate by age, race or gender.
- Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer-related death in young women ages 25 to 30, and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in women ages 30 to 35.
- Melanoma is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among people ages 15 to 29.
- The occurrence of people under 30 developing melanoma is increasing faster than any other demographic, jumping by 50% in women since 1980.
- Each year approximately 500 American children are diagnosed with melanoma.
- The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men over the age of 50.
- Today, nearly one million people live with melanoma in the U.S.
- The lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 1 in 40 for Caucasians, 1 in 200 for Hispanics and 1 in 1,000 for African Americans.
Nearly 90% of melanomas are thought to be caused by UV exposure (this includes natural sunlight and artificial sources). There are simple things you can do to help prevent a future skin cancer diagnosis.
- Stay out of tanning beds!
Indoor tanning devices are proven to cause cancer and have been classified into the highest cancer risk category by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Exposure to tanning beds before the age of 30 increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma by 75%. Furthermore, young people who regularly use tanning beds are eight times more likely to develop melanoma than people who have never used them. Some people justify indoor tanning as a means to prevent sunburns, but research has shown that this is not effective.
- Use sunscreen!
It takes only one blistering sunburn (especially at a young age) to more than double a person’s chance of developing melanoma later in life. Having five or more blistering sunburns early in life increases one’s melanoma risk by 80%. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 every day.
- Cover up!
You can help reduce your risk of developing melanoma by seeking shade whenever possible. Wearing protective clothing and avoiding direct sunlight between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm is also beneficial. If you’re headed for a day at the beach, pack an umbrella or a wide-brimmed hat. Also remember to wear sunglasses that provide 100% protection from UVA and UVB light.
Protect Your Skin
You just read some interesting – and frightening – facts. So now it’s your turn. Embrace the whim, pick up your phone and call a dermatologist. It’s time to be proactive about your health and schedule a skin check now. Summer is almost here, so remember to enjoy your vitamin D with diligent sunscreen use – and don’t hesitate to share some of that SPF with those around you. There is a lot of fun to be had outside – just be sure to do it responsibly!
Information to support this article was found on the Melanoma Research Foundation’s website: www.melanoma.org.