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May 18, 2010 > Skin Cancer is a Growing Health Concern

Skin Cancer is a Growing Health Concern

Washington Hospital Seminar Offers Tips for Preventing Melanoma

As summer quickly approaches, bringing warm sunny days, many of us will be spending more time outdoors. But the sun can seriously damage our skin and increase the risk for melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer.

The United States has seen a dramatic increase in the number of melanoma cases in the past few decades. According to the American Cancer Society, the number of new cases each year has more than doubled since 1973.

"The incidence of malignant melanoma has increased more than 1,800 percent since the 1930s," said Dr. David Gorsulowsky, a Washington Hospital staff dermatologist. "Melanoma is increasing more rapidly than any other cancer. Newly diagnosed cases of melanoma are approaching nearly 70,000 each year."

He will offer tips for preventing skin cancer at an upcoming seminar titled, "Skin Care and Prevention of Skin Cancer." The talk is scheduled for Tuesday, May 25, from 12 to 1 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To register online, visit www.whhs.com, or call (800) 963-7070.

Skin cancer affects more people than any other cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form followed by squamous cell carcinoma. These two types are rarely fatal, according to Gorsulowsky.

"Melanoma is really in a different category from other skin cancers," he said. "Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, and one of the most deadly forms of cancer in the human body. We expect that when all the data is in for 2009, there will have been more than 8,000 deaths from melanoma in the United States alone."

While scientists are investigating new treatments for melanoma, currently the only ways to treat it are through surgical removal of the diseased area and chemotherapy.


Risk Factors

Those with a family history of melanoma are at greatest risk, according to Gorsulowsky. Another major factor is sun exposure, especially early in life.

"There is no such thing as a healthy tan, and those who had excessive sun exposure as children or in their teenage years face a higher risk," he said. "Unfortunately, the risk doesn't go away, even if it's been years since you sat in the sun."

While fair-skinned people are more likely to get skin cancer, there is a misconception that those with darker skin are not at risk.

"People don't realize those with dark skin are not protected from melanoma and other types of skin cancer," he said. "In fact, darker-skinned individuals have a higher incidence of a type of melanoma that occurs on the hands and feet, and they face a high rate of serious complications from it."

The good news is melanoma and other skin cancers are often preventable. Gorsulowsky recommends getting an annual checkup by a dermatologist; more often for those who are at high risk.

"We think that around 50 percent of the time melanomas start in preexisting moles," he said. "We can remove some of those high-risk moles at an early stage before they turn into melanoma."

That's why it is doubly important for people with a large number of high-risk moles to get a regular checkup and follow the ABCDEs, Gorsulowsky said. A is for asymmetry, B is for irregular border, C is for a color change, D is for a diameter greater than six millimeters, and E is for evolution. So if a mole is misshapen, changes color, or gets bigger, it needs to be checked.

"We believe by watching moles and educating people about what to look for, we can detect many melanomas early, giving us a better chance of curing them" he said.

Another way to reduce your risk is to protect yourself against the sun's harmful rays by covering your skin, wearing a hat, and staying out of the sun during peak hours. According to Gorsulowsky, it's good to wear a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher, but sunscreen only protects against two types of ultraviolet rays and a few other wavelengths of light.

"Sunscreen is not a panacea," he said. "And don't be fooled by the current push to get more sun for vitamin D. There are healthier ways to get vitamin D. You can get it through diet and vitamin supplements."

Gorsulowsky will present selected melanoma case studies at the seminar and answer questions from the audience. "By educating yourself about melanoma, you can significantly reduce your risk," he said.

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