Dr. Oz Explains Skin Cancer
What You Need to Know About Melanoma
Why aren't people taking basic precautions to protect themselves against a cancer that will claim 9,500 U.S. lives this year?
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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Melanoma, the most deadly of all skin cancers, is the fastest growing cancer in the world. The American Cancer Society predicts nearly 9,500 melanoma deaths this year in the United States alone. Even more shocking is how many people — melanoma survivors included — aren’t taking simple precautions to protect their skin and, potentially, their life.
The leading cause of melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet radiation, whether from the sun or artificial sources. Yet new data shows that more than a quarter of melanoma survivors don’t use sunscreen and over 2 percent even use tanning beds. Anees Chagpar, MD, associate professor in the Department of Surgery at Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said the findings “blew my mind.”
“It’s terrible that this disconnect exists,” said Gloria Xu, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Despite all these facts about more melanoma cases and the risk factors, people aren’t protecting themselves.”
The problem isn’t limited to adults either. While melanoma in children is rare, a new study reported a rise in cases among the very young. The most significant increase was among adolescent girls between 15 and 19 years of age.
“There’s the element of peer pressure when all their friends are doing it,” said Lionel Bercovitch, MD, director of pediatric dermatology at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, R.I. As with people who continue smoking despite the risk of lung cancer, Bercovitch thinks “there’s a pleasure and addiction factor” to tanning.
There are several preventive measures you can take to cut down on the risks of too much sun exposure:
- When choosing a sunscreen, look for a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Broad spectrum sunscreens protect against both UV-A and UV-B rays.
- If you’re spending the day outdoors, apply sunscreen every couple of hours. There’s no such thing as “waterproof” sunscreen, so you should reapply it after swimming. Dee Anna Glaser, MD, chief of dermatology at St. Louis University in Missouri, advises her patients to apply sunscreen to their face and neck every day.
- Wearing a hat shields your face and eyes from the sun’s rays. Keep your skin covered in direct sunlight to prevent sunburns.
- Be careful how much time you spend outdoors between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. That’s when UV rays are strongest.
Remember that some people are at a greater risk for melanoma, due to genetics or other reasons. People with fair skin, red or blonde hair and light-colored eyes, for instance, are more vulnerable. The reason is that they have less melanin pigment, and therefore less protection from UV radiation.
Other risk factors include your family history, a weakened immune system, frequent sunburns or having a lot of moles.
Detecting melanoma early is critical. You should visit the dermatologist every year for a checkup. In between annual checkups, self-examine your skin regularly for any growths or changes. The National Cancer Institute and the American Academy of Dermatology suggest a skin self-exam every month.
There are five indicators for a potential melanoma, commonly referred to as “the ABCDE’s” — A for asymmetrical shape, B for irregular borders, C for different colors, D for a diameter bigger than a pencil eraser and E for evolving shape, color or size. If a mole or lesion displays any of these signs, then contact a dermatologist.
“Patients need to be part of their own care,” said Xu.
Video: The 4 Stages of Melanoma: The Deadliest Form of Skin Cancer - Mayo Clinic
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