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Melanoma on the Rise, but Preventable

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal on the rising instances of Melanoma, which is the most serious form of skin cancer. Since we’re heading into the summer months, I wanted to share some of the pertinent parts of the article.

While cancer rates for many forms of the disease are falling, melanoma rates are actually rising. In fact it’s now the most common form of cancer for adults 25 to 29 years of age.

Although only 3% of all skin cancers are Melanoma, this type of cancer causes over 75% of deaths from the disease. However, there is good news. If a tumor is caught before it actually penetrates the outer layer of the skin, the survival rate is about 99%. As you can see, early diagnosis and treatment are critical.

Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center has identified 6 factors (using data from 300 patients with the disease and 300 control patients) that can help predict melanoma risk. These include:

  • Blistering sunburns as a teenager
  • Outdoor jobs for 3+ years as a teen
  • Red or blond hair
  • Marked freckling on the upper back
  • A family history of melanoma
  • A history of “actinic keratoses” – are dry, scaly, lesions that are an early stage of skin cancer

Two or more of these risk factors increases your risk of melanoma 5 – 10 times over the general population’s.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends checking moles using a tool dubbed the ABCDEs of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry – one half is unlike the other half
  • Border – irregular, scalloped or poorly defined
  • Color – varies from one area to another
  • Diameter – size of a pencil eraser or larger
  • Evolving – changes in size, shape or color over time

If you think you have any of these signs, contact your primary care physician, or your dermatologist. They’ll be able to accurately diagnose and treat any skin cancer related issues. And, remember, sunblock is a necessity during the summer months.