Just as the sun is starting to heat up, May is melanoma and skin cancer awareness month. While these are all skin cancers, melanoma has a much different presentation and treatment than the more common and less deadly basal and squamous cell carcinoma. Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common type of cancer with an estimated 5+ million cases per year in the US.
Melanoma is the 6th and 5th most common cancer in men and women respectively but accounts for only 1% of all skin cancers. In Louisiana, there will be approximately 1000 cases in 2022. Due to increased awareness, the rate among young people is decreasing and for those over 50, it has stabilized since 2018.
Risk factors for all skin cancers are essentially the same. The most important factor is that of light-colored skin with Caucasians having a 30-fold increased difference when compared to Black or Asian Pacific populations. Excessive UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds also increases the risk of outdoor occupations.
To prevent melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers we must protect our skin from excessive exposure to UV light. Decrease time in the sun particularly when the sun is at its peak between 10 AM-2 PM. Young children and teens should be especially careful as severe damage to the skin at an early age increase the risk of melanoma. Wear protective clothing with long sleeves and wide-brimmed hats. The use of sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 when out in the sun. Avoid sunbathing and tanning beds.
Early detection is important to increase positive outcomes. Changes in your skin such as a new growth, change in size, shape, or color of a mole.
Melanoma in particular follows the ABCDE rules for early detection:
A is for asymmetry (one half of the mole does not match the other half); B is for border irregularity (the edges are ragged, notched, or blurred); C is for color (the pigmentation is not uniform); D is for diameter greater than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser); and E is for evolution, meaning a change in the mole’s appearance over time. Not all melanomas have these signs, so be alert for any new or changing skin growths or spots.
Non-melanomatous skin cancer is easily treated and cured with surgical resection, particularly in the early stages. Occasionally radiation therapy is employed. Melanoma is also treated surgically but may involve sampling of nearby lymph nodes as this disease is more likely to spread. Resection may be followed by immunotherapy depending on the stage of the disease.
Cure rates for melanoma are about 99% for early localized disease and 30% for a disease that has spread beyond the skin and lymph nodes.
Skin cancer is common but easily treated if caught early and there is much that we can do to prevent this cancer successfully. Apply sunscreen and enjoy the summer.