Ah, summer. Regardless of where you live, it's the season during which you yearn for activities drenched in sunshine. For many people, it is the season of suntanning. Who doesn't see the attraction of skin darkened by the sun's rays, shown off in shorts or pretty dresses? However, a dark shadow lurks over the sun's beckoning warmth. Skin cancer rates are skyrocketing in this country despite years of public service warnings about the importance of sunscreen protection.
Further, population groups previously assumed to be impervious to skin cancer are now being diagnosed in large numbers. Here's what you need to know about skin cancer before you head out to the pool, beach, or park.
Skin cancer basics
There are two types of skin cancer: melanoma and nonmelanoma. The nonmelanoma skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma (which constitutes ¾ of all skin cancer cases) and squamous cell carcinoma, are easily detected, slow to progress, and usually successfully treated. Melanoma is also easy to detect, but if missed in its early stages it progresses rapidly and spreads throughout the body. In its latest stages, melanoma is incurable.
Sharp increase in melanoma cases
Despite warnings from all directions about the importance of using sunscreen and avoiding sun exposure during the time of day when the sun's rays are strongest, doctors are seeing a sharp increase in the number of skin cancer cases in this country. Consider these figures:
Melanoma rates have doubled in the past 30 years
in 1982, 11.2 people per 100,000 were diagnosed with melanoma; in 2011, this figure was 22.7 people per 100,000
the CDC projects that, from 2015 to 2030, the rate of melanoma cases will increase by 65% to affect 112,000 people per year
during the past 30 years, more people have been diagnosed with melanoma than with all other types of cancer combined
Of note is that skin cancer cases have increased among population groups previously thought unlikely to contract the disease. For example, melanoma rates have risen 19% among Hispanics in the past 20 years, and diagnoses of non-melanoma skin cancers are rising among young Hispanic and Asian women.
Why the jump?
Why are we seeing such dramatic increases in skin cancer? There are three significant factors involved:
Increase in winter tanning opportunities. Because we are such a mobile society, and many internet sites offer deeply discounted rates to warm climes during chilly winters, people are spending more days each year pursuing tans.
Past sunburns. Many people in this generation were teenagers in the years before the public awareness campaigns about the dangers of sun exposure. A recent cancer study found that if you had five or more sunburns between the age of 15 and 20, your potential for developing melanoma increased by 80 percent.
The belief that dark skin prevents sun damage. The rise in skin cancers among Hispanic and Asian peoples is due in large part to thinking that dark skin protects them; thus, they are less likely than Caucasians to use sunscreen or umbrellas while out in the sun. The fact that young women of these ethnicities are developing skin cancer seems related to a reversal in the traditional thought that light skin is to be valued.
Symptoms of melanoma
It's important to know the signs of melanoma so that you can seek medical attention quickly. First, note changes in any moles or other skin growths, and be alert to any open wounds that don't heal. Further, look specifically for:
small, dark, multi-colored spot with irregular borders (either raised or flat)
a cluster of shiny, firm, dark bumps
any mole bigger than a pencil eraser
moles that itch, bleed, or crust
If you notice any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away. You will likely be referred to a dermatologist, or skin doctor, for definitive diagnosis and treatment.
Enjoy the sun this summer, by all means. However, be wise. Those guidelines about using sunscreen, wearing sun protective clothing, and avoiding the sun during peak midday hours exist to help you prevent against becoming one of this country's melanoma statistics. check out sites like http://www.dermsurgctr.com to find a dermatologist near you who can answer any other questions you may have.