by Lisa Benest M.D.
More than two million new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States annually, and over 100,000 cases of melanoma, outnumbering all other cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop a skin cancer at some point, yet it is one of the most preventable types of cancer.
There is no reason to delay a clinical exam for skin cancer. Annual screening is ideal because finding a growth in its early stages can mean the difference between life and death. Most melanomas can be seen by the naked eye. Usually there is a long period of time when the tumor grows beneath the top layer of skin but does not penetrate the deeper layers. This slow growth means the cancer may be cured if it is found before it spreads deeper. Mortality rates are directly related to the depth of the cancer. The 5-year survival rate if melanoma is caught before spreading to a lymph node is 98%. If all skin cancers were found and treated early on, the disease would be nearly 100% curable.
Melanoma is increasing fastest in females between ages 15-29, the most common location being on the torso. This is felt to be due to high-risk tanning behavior. In addition, exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning lamps has been linked to both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. For young women, using tanning beds for the first time before age 35 increases melanoma risk by as much as 75%.
How often should someone check for abnormalities?
Do self-exams for suspicious moles and spots. Recruit a partner for those hard-to-see spots. If you notice anything changing, growing or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist.
Who is at risk?
It’s misleading to think that only a certain demographic should be screened. Exams are a necessary routine no matter your age or your ethnicity. It is the No. 1 cancer in adults aged 25-29.
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