Melanoma on the Rise: Keep it Covered to Prevent Skin Cancer

The last thing that you ever want to hear at the dermatologist’s office are the words, “it could be melanoma”, This, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is on the rise across all age groups. Although melanoma accounts for less than 2% of skin cancer cases, it causes the most skin cancer-related deaths because it can advance quickly and spread to other parts of the body. Then, it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal.

Keep it Covered
Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure (frequently leading to sunburn), especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease. It’s important to protect your skin when you’re in the sun and avoid tanning beds.

Dr. Brewer says that we need to be especially aware of sun protection for young people. “If you get just one blistering sunburn as a child or teenager, your risk of melanoma more than doubles,” Dr. Brewer said. “And if you have more than five normal sunburns during your childhood or adolescence, then your chances of melanoma doubles or triples.”

Who Has Melanoma? 
In the last 30 years, people between the ages of 40 and 60 are seeing the largest increase in melanoma cases. Researchers found that women in their 40s have experienced the largest increase.

Why are more middle aged people being diagnosed with melanoma? According to Dr. Jerry Brewer, researcher and dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic, we can blame it on popular culture. “There's been a cultural trend for many decades in which people connect being tan with being fit and even successful,” Dr. Brewer said in an article published on

Think of those images of youthful, tan bodies running around on the beaches in the 1970s and 1980s. Those teenagers who slathered their skin in baby oil and used suntan reflectors or even made going to the tanning bed part of their lifestyle are now in the age group seeing the highest growth rate of melanoma diagnosis.

Early Detection and Screenings Lead to Fewer Deaths 
But it isn’t all bad news. The number of cases is rising, but skin cancer-related deaths have declined. The overall odds of surviving melanoma have increased by 7% over the last 40 years. Increased awareness, more frequent screenings and earlier detection of skin cancer and are all helping to lead us towards fewer deaths from melanoma.

Being more aware of the symptoms and getting regular screenings is important because it helps catch the disease early. Dr. Brewer suggests that everyone get in the habit of checking their skin once a month.

Follow Sun-safe Guidelines
Everyone over 6 months old should follow these guidelines:

  • Apply sunscreen to all bare skin. Remember your neck, face, ears and legs and the tops of your feet. For hard-to-reach areas like your back, ask someone to help or use a spray sunscreen. If you have thinning hair, either apply sunscreen to your scalp or wear a wide-brimmed hat. To protect your lips, apply a lip balm with a SPF of at least 15.
  • Apply sunscreen generously before going outdoors. It takes about 15 minutes for your skin to absorb the sunscreen and protect you.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. And reapply immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.
  • Choose sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher, is water resistant, and provides broad-spectrum protection.

Self-Check for Changes

Possible signs that a mole could be melanoma include asymmetry and a diameter larger than a pencil eraser. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. If you notice a new mole or changes in an existing one, see your doctor.

Catching melanoma early can improve the chances of surviving this type of skin cancer. In fact, if melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable, as it was for Lisa Schleinzer.

Lisa was 29 years old when she was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma. After an initial procedure, Lisa recovered. For follow-up care, she gets twice yearly exams and has had a few non-cancerous moles removed.

“The younger that you start those protective behaviors, the longer you can be protected throughout your life,” Dr. Brewer's aid. Talk to your doctor to learn more.

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