By Dina Martin
Although breast cancer has garnered its share of attention, the Northern California Cancer Center has also shed some light on a troubling increase in the rates of melanoma, a skin cancer affecting both men and women.
Cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are on the increase in all age, sex and socioeconomic groups — but particularly among non-Hispanic white men over the age of 65, according to a study released earlier in the year by NCCC research scientist Christina Clarke and colleagues from Stanford University, the University of Southern California and Washington University.
While prior studies suggested that the increase in melanoma cases is merely due to more screening, the NCCC study showed otherwise, and estimated an overall increase in melanoma occurrence at the rate of 3.1 percent a year — with the rate in non-Hispanic white men increasing nearly 5 percent per year. Results of the study provided hard evidence that rates of early-detected thin tumors as well as late-detected thick tumors have increased.
"Because we were able to break out and also to detect increase in melanoma occurrence both for thick melanomas and for persons living in impoverished areas, we can rule out this idea that melanoma is just going up because of more screening among persons with good access to screening," Clarke said. "Now we can focus on making sure all patients know about melanoma and have improved access to screening, which can catch melanomas before they become deadly."
The study was conducted using data collected from the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) national cancer monitoring program.
To reduce the risk of developing melanoma, the National Cancer Institute recommends:
- Avoiding exposure to midday sun (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) whenever possible.
- Wearing protective clothing in the sun (long sleeves, pants, hats).
- Protecting yourself from UV radiation using lotion, cream or gel that contains sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
- Wearing sunglasses that have UV-absorbing lenses.