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May 2017

Deadliest Skin Cancer on the Rise

Over your lifetime, you’ll likely spend umpteen hours in the sun. As a result, your skin will be exposed to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. This fact is mainly why skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide. And according to a recent study, more adults in the U.S. may end up with melanoma, the deadliest form of this skin disease.

Bottles of sunscreen, a blanket and a hat on the beach

Why more melanoma?

In the recent study, researchers set out to calculate a person’s lifetime risk for melanoma. They looked at key statistics for the skin condition. They compared the number of cases and deaths in the U.S. between 2009 and 2016.

In 2009, a person had a 1 in 58 chance of developing invasive melanoma. “Invasive” means the disease has spread beyond the skin. With data from 2016, the researchers found that number rose to 1 out of 54 adults. What’s more, when they included all types of melanoma—invasive and noninvasive—in their analysis, they found that 1 out of 28 adults may face the disease in their lifetime.

Researchers aren’t quite sure why there has been such a rise in the cases of melanoma. But better detection may partly be the reason. People may be paying closer attention to their skin. And healthcare providers may be better at spotting the disease.

What makes melanoma so deadly?

Melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer. But unlike other types, it tends to spread beyond the skin. It can invade the lymph nodes, major organs, and even the blood. At advanced stages, the disease can be hard to treat.

You have a higher chance of developing melanoma if:

  • You have fair skin with freckles, light-colored eyes, and blond or red hair.

  • Your skin burns easily.

  • You had many sunburns as a child.

  • You spend or have spent a lot of time in UV light, whether in the sun or in a tanning bed.

  • You have many moles on your body.

  • You have a family history of the disease.

Having melanoma once makes it more likely that you will develop it again. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how or choose not to take steps to protect themselves from skin cancer. Practicing basic sun safety can help. Seek the shade, especially during peak sunlight hours. Also be sure to regularly wear a hat, sunglasses with UV protection, and adequate sunscreen.

Spotting the signs of melanoma

A regular skin self-exam can help you spot the signs of melanoma early. When checking moles and other blemishes on your skin, talk with your healthcare provider about any that:

  • Are not uniform in shape

  • Have an irregular border

  • Have a variety of colors in them, such as black, blue, and white

  • Are bigger than the size of a pencil eraser

  • Have changed shape, color, or size over a period of time

Find more tips on doing a skin self-exam.

Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2017
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