The incidence of melanoma is rising, according to Mary Martini, MD, FAAD Associate professor Dermatology, Director, Melanoma and Pigmented Lesion Clinic Northwestern University.
Dr. Martini said that in 1900 the incidence of melanoma was one in 2000. In 2004 it had risen to one in 70 and by 2012 melanoma incidence had climbed to one in 58. Melanoma is the rarest form of cancer, but it is the most deadly.
Melanoma is an odd duck. The website Second Opinions points out that “During the 1980s and early ’90s more than a dozen studies compared histories of sunburn in patients with melanoma and controls. But differences in design and definition of sunburn make it difficult to quantify a single estimate of risk.”
“There is five times more melanoma in Scotland on the feet than on the hands. And melanoma in Orkney and Shetland is ten times that of the Mediterranean islands.”
Dr. Martini was speaking before a Northwestern Memorial Hospital Healthy Transitions Program® .
Another sobering statistic she offered was the changes in overall cancer mortality from 1975 to 2000. Prostate cancer mortality has fallen five percent, breast cancer mortality has fallen 15 percent, colorectal cancer is down 25 percent, but death from melanoma has risen 28 percent.
Dr. Martini offered a number of valuable tips on how to protect yourself from skin cancer in general and melanoma in particular.
She said that tanning beds are deadly and they should be avoided. When tanning beds first began, they were considered safe because they used only the UVA ultraviolet rays which were thought to be safe. That is no longer the case as it is now known that UVA rays can also cause skin cancer.
She said that tanning bed use before the age of 35 increases the risk of skin cancer by 75 percent.
Dr. Martini also explained some of the medical terms we hear regarding various aspects of skin cancer. Actinic Keratosis are pre-cancers that least to basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell cancers.
There are three cancers that humans contract. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer. Although it never metastacizes, neglected cells will spread but they do not kill you. Sun damage is the major cause.
Regular readers will recall that last August I was diagnosed with skin cancer that turned out to be a basal cell carcinoma. You can read about in in my post of last August third.
The squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. Unlike the basal cell, the squamous cell carcinoma can metasticize if neglected. Sun damage plays a major role in this cancer, too. It can also occur in pre-existing burn and traumatic scars. Lastly, squamous cell carcinoma can occur on the lower lip due to smoking or chewing tobacco.
Regarding the use of sunscreens to protect ourselves, Dr. Martini recommended broad spectrum sunscreens. She said she liked the spray bottles, but that we should spray it on our hands and apply it that way, not try to spray it on our arms and legs directly because too much is sprayed away into the air. She also recommended wearing sunscreen clothing and hats as additional protection.
She said that women were better at using sunblock because of their familiarity with lotions and moisturizers. Men, she said, were more comfortable just wearing long sleeved shirts as they generally did not take well to sunblock lotions.
She added that most people should avoid prolonged exposure to the sun from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., but for fair-skinned persons, she expanded the hours to 10:00 a.m.until 4:00 p.m.
Because of my regular bike riding and sun exposure as well as my skin cancer last year, I have written a number of blog posts on the subject. You can find them on my Page What to do about extreme heat.
I also have a Page on Skin cancer facts in general and my three skin cancer operations.