Melanoma Rates on the Rise

By Briana Vannozzi

For generations of sun-worshipers, it’s a call to action. The Surgeon General’s report says that while other forms of cancer are decreasing, melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — is on the rise.

About 5 million people in the U.S. are treated for skin cancer each year — a 200 percent jump in the last four decades. Out of that, about 63,000 are diagnosed as melanoma resulting in about 9,000 deaths.

Dr. Andrew Pecora explains some of the factors.

“Excess exposure to UV light, particularly at an early age, so tanning salons, the environment, ozone layer, not being rigorous about sunscreen,” explained Pecora who is an oncologist at the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center.

As VP of cancer services at the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center, he sees cases that run the gamut.

“There are two classes of skin cancer — one is melanoma and the other is everything else. There’s basal cell, squamous cell and a whole variety. Those are of lesser concern,” Pecora said.

Doctors say bad sunburns in the first two decades of your life increase your risk.

Dr. Franz Smith is a melanoma surgeon at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.

“It’s a very aggressive cancer. It arises in a cell in the skin called a melanomsome and once exposed to UV light it can become malignant and once it becomes malignant, like cancers they have the ability to grow and spread to other organs,” Smith said.

Early detection and proper prevention are key. Patients like Glenn O’Brien know this well.

“About 10 years ago I had a blemish on my face that just wouldn’t heal and it would bleed from time to time,” he said.

It was diagnosed as actinic keratosis — pre-cancerous — and easily removable.

“Now I go every six months and he checks me out head to foot and frequently freezes things off, mostly on my face, and it’s all due to sun damage at an early age,” O’Brien said.

The good news is the word cure continues to pop up. Targeted therapies and drugs have a high success rate along with surgery. The best advice — don’t get it at all.

Fair-skinned people may be most prone, but African-Americans and any dark complexion are still susceptible.

It’s important to remember that even on a cloudy day when the weather is cool and breezy you’re still at risk for UV exposure. Doctors say make sure you put sunscreen on every two hours and every 30 minutes if you’re going to be swimming.

“Bottom line is if you see a change in any mole on your body or anything on your body, in size, shape or color, go see your doctor,” Pecora said.

Experts tell us SPF 30 will do just fine. Anything above probably isn’t necessary. And not to be afraid of the sun. Just respect it.