One person dies from melanoma every hour. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is more prevalent today than ever before. Since 1980, instances of melanoma in young adults has risen by 400%. In the last 30 years, more Americans have had some form of skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
With summer on its way, it is important to talk about melanoma: the skin cancer that kills more than 10,000 a year. The majority of melanoma occurs after excess sun exposure. According to recent study, a person’s risk doubles after only five sunburns. Melanoma is staggeringly common in young people—after all, in the course of a few summers of outdoor play or beach trips, five sunburns is easily possible if not likely.
Why is melanoma on the rise?
The rising rate of melanoma cases is steep. In 2009, 1 in 58 Americans had melanoma in their lifetime. In 2016, that number changed to 1 in 54. This jump of roughly 13% followed three decades of steady rise before it. Since the boom in the tanning culture, melanoma has become more common. With education about skin cancer in general, and melanoma in particular, the rise in occurrence also reflects our greater ability to recognize it.
With continued education about the dangers of sun damage, 12 states have made it illegal for minors to use tanning beds, including North Carolina and Louisiana. And while education about melanoma has helped, and laws are now being leveraged to protect minors, tanning beds are only considered moderate-risk devices by most dermatologists. Exposure to the sun—particularly for the purpose of tanning—remains the cause of almost 90% of melanoma cases.
Melanoma means “black tumor.” Regular exams of the entire surface of your skin is the only way to watch for warning signs. When any mole changes in size, or color, has blurred edges or becomes asymmetrical, it needs to be checked. As many as one third of melanoma cases begin in existing moles, which need to be examined as well. Melanoma is extremely common on the back, and exams often have to be done with the help of someone else to check those hard-to-see areas.
What can I do?
Sunscreen with SPF as low as 15 can be used every day, with or without lengthy sun exposure. Protection from the sun is not only for when you go to the beach. When you do spend extended time in the sun, be sure to apply sunscreen of SPF 30+ amply and often. At home, take extra care of your skin with your choice of lotion, cream or body butters. Healthy skin will be that much better prepared to combat the production of cancerous cells.
There are foods that encourage healthy skin cell reproduction, too. Chocolate has anti-oxidant qualities that are beneficial for the skin, as well as your immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids (by supplement or consumed naturally in certain fish and nuts) are particularly important, as your body does not produce them naturally. In conjunction with regular checks and sunscreen use, skin-healthy foods can be your excuse to eat some extra chocolate, and enjoy your summer with wellbeing top-of-mind. Contact us with any questions you might have!
Data collected from SkinCancer.org, MelanomaInternational.org and Mayo Clinic.