The number of malignant melanoma cases, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is on the rise in the United States and worldwide.
Malignant melanoma is a form of skin malignancy that arises from a pre-existing mole or appears de novo on almost any area of the body including the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose. Rates of melanoma have tripled over the last two decades – with the average person now having a one in sixty chance of developing this disease over his or her lifetime.
Melanoma rates are disturbingly high
Why are malignant melanoma cases on the rise? While some of the increase is due to population aging (the risk of melanoma is higher in older people), the most likely factor is sun worship and the popularity of tanning booths. Sun exposure during childhood and history of a bad sunburn are two factors associated with an increased risk of malignant melanoma. Melanomas are being increasingly seen in younger age groups as teens and young adults flock to tanning booths to get the sun-kissed look. Not surprisingly, this is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in their twenties.
Who’s at risk for malignant melanoma?
Some people are more susceptible to malignant melanoma, independently of exposure to the sun. Rates of melanoma are higher in people with fair skin, red hair, and freckles and less common in people with more natural melanin in their skin. It’s also more frequent in people who have a family history of the disease or who have lots of moles on their body – particularly dysplastic moles which have atypical features.
Rising rates: How to reduce the risk
Because of the serious nature of a malignant melanoma, it’s important to be aware of the signs of this disease and be checked regularly for skin changes. Any mole that changes in color, looks irregular, bleeds, itches, grows, or otherwise changes in appearance needs immediate evaluation. People who have a family history of malignant melanoma or who are fair skinned should be examined by a dermatologist every six months. Any new bumps or colored areas that appear should also be looked at by a doctor.
Of course, the best way to reduce the risk of melanoma is to wear a sunscreen and avoid excessive sun exposure. Steer clear of tanning booths since they’re no safer than the sun – and may be more unsafe – despite what the advertisements say.
The rates of malignant melanoma are rising and deaths from this aggressive form of cancer can be reduced by doing regular skin checks and minimizing excess sun exposure – beyond what’s needed for adequate vitamin D levels.
Don’t become – or let your child become – an unnecessary victim of this common form of cancer.