Health officials concerned about significant increase in new cases of melanoma

Learn what you can do to protect yourself and family members from getting this deadly skin cancer.

In a recent press release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that melanoma rates had doubled between 1982 and 2011 from 11.2 to 22.7 cases per 100,000 people. Their Vital Signs report confirms skin cancer to be the most common form of cancer in the United States with melanoma being the deadliest of all types of skin cancer. More than 90 percent of melanomas are caused when skin cells have been damaged by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Tans and sunburns are how the body responds to damage from UV exposure and both are dangerous. Even though a tan does not hurt like a sun burn often does, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes that there is no safe amount of tan. The UV rays from the sun have traditionally been the most common source of this damaging radiation, but indoor tanning beds have become another troubling source of UV over-exposure in recent years.

Currently, melanoma is responsible for over 9,000 deaths annually. There are several other sobering statistics provided by the CDC:

  • Individuals who die of melanoma lose an average of 20 years life expectancy.
  • More than 65,000 melanoma skin cancers were diagnosed in the Unites States in 2011.
  • At the current rate, in 2030 alone, the CDC projects there will be 112,000 new cases of melanoma.
  • Cost of treatment will skyrocket from $457 Million in 2011 to $1.6 Billion in 2030, nearly triple.

The CDC projects that melanoma rates will continue to increase unless individuals, communities, and policy-makers take preventative steps. What specifically can be done to combat this trend? In their report, the CDC suggests that implementing effective skin cancer prevention programs could prevent 230,000 new cases and save $2.7 Billion in treatment costs. Their ideal program would be multi-faceted including education, mass media campaigns, and policy changes.

Individuals would need to change personal behavior to protect their own health when outdoors by:

  • Wearing a hat and appropriate clothing such as long sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Using broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15, re-applying every two hours and after swimming.
  • Seeking shade if one is out during peak sun hours, generally 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Neighborhood associations and entire communities could join in the effort by increasing shaded areas at playgrounds, public pools, recreation areas, and other public spaces. Because of the danger associated with indoor tanning beds, restricting their use by those younger than 18 is another measure CDC recommends to reduce skin cancer risk.

Employers, child care centers, schools and colleges are all urged by CDC to engage in educational efforts regarding sun safety and skin protection.

Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, the CDC notes that preventative services such as no-cost behavioral counseling is being provided to fair skinned individuals 10-24 years of age encouraging them to limit their exposure to UV radiation thereby reducing their risk of skin cancer.

Visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website to learn more about the types, stages, and warning signs of melanoma. To assist in early detection of melanoma, doctors have devised two strategies that you can easily use at home. The ABCDE approach looks at five characteristics (asymmetry, border, color, diameter, evolving) that may indicate a mole on your skin is melanoma. If a mole has one or more of these five signs, it is recommended you immediately make an appointment with your doctor. The other approach, The Ugly Duckling, notes that generally a person’s moles resemble one another much like ducklings in a brood would. If you notice a mole has changed in some way, looks or feels different than your other moles, then it is time to see your doctor about this “ugly duckling”.

For more information about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, visit the Michigan State University Extension website. You can browse articles on a variety of health-related and other topics, search for workshops and events being offered in your area, and obtain contact information for your local county Extension office.

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