I recently had a melanoma removed from my chest. A year ago I had one removed from the back of my head. In both cases the cancers were found at their earliest stage so removal was quick, easy, permanent, and life saving.
My early stage melanomas were found because because I have a total body skin cancer screening by a board certified *1 dermatologist specializing in skin cancer every six months. I would have never found them myself since there were no obvious physical signs on my skin. Had they not been found, it’s likely my life would have been threatened and the expense to treat them dramatically higher.
Melanoma is a potentially deadly form of skin cancer that is most often evident on the skin’s surface. It represents the only cancer that can be seen by the unaided human eye.
Understanding The Statistics ***SkinCancer.org
- Melanoma Deaths. An estimated 7,230 people will die of melanoma in 2019.
- New Melanoma Cases. It’s estimated that the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed in 2019 will increase by 7.7 percent.
- Types of Melanoma. An estimated 192,310 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2019. Of those, 95,830 cases will be in situ (noninvasive), confined to the epidermis (the top layer of skin), and 96,480 cases will be invasive, penetrating the epidermis into the skin’s second layer (the dermis).
- Sun Exposure. The vast majority of melanomas are caused by the sun. In fact, one UK study found that about 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
- Sunburn. On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns, but just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
- Early Detection. Compared with stage I melanoma patients treated within 30 days of being biopsied, those treated 30 to 59 days after biopsy have a 5 percent higher risk of dying from the disease, and those treated more than 119 days after biopsy have a 41 percent higher risk.
- Early Detection Survival Rate. The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is about 98 percent.
- Later Detection Survival Rate. The survival rate falls to 64 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and 23 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.
- Apparently Normal Skin Appearance. Only 20 to 30 percent of melanomas are found in existing moles, while 70 to 80 percent arise on apparently normal skin.
Basal and squamous cell cancers aren’t as deadly as melanoma, but they’re far more common. Every year, more than 3.3 million people in the U.S. are treated for these cancers.
Why Total Body Skin Cancer Screenings Are Important
“Generally speaking, I recommend that everyone starts getting an annual body check in early adulthood,” says Marc Glashofer, M.D., a skin cancer surgeon at the Dermatology Group in West Orange, New Jersey. “If you can vote, you should get your skin checked annually by a board-certified dermatologist.”
In terms of skin cancer, the population at the highest risk is anyone with fair skin, often called Skin Type 1 and Skin Type 2 (here’s how to determine your skin type). These people tend to have a hard time tanning and burn easily, and are Caucasian with blue eyes, light hair, and freckles.
“No matter what, they should get annual skin checks,” says Hooman Khorasani, M.D., the chief of the division of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery and an assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
As for the rest of the population? Skin cancer risk is based on a slew of other risk factors, the biggest of which is a history of skin cancer yourself. Other risk factors: a history of severe sunburn, a history of using tanning beds, and a sibling or parent who has a history of skin cancer, Dr. Khorasani says. Research also suggests that having more than 11 moles on one arm could put you at an increased risk for skin cancer.
“If someone has a history of skin cancer or has a first-degree relative with a history of skin cancer, they should be coming for screenings every six to 12 months,” says Dr. Glashofer.
In fact, a history of sunburns and tanning beds puts you at a higher risk of skin cancer than someone who simply has fair skin, says Dr. Khorasani, who adds that these people should also see their dermatologists once or twice a year.
Only a fraction of these cancers spread to other parts of the body, but catching them early can be the difference between easy (and near scar-free) removal and serious surgery that can have a significant impact on your life (like having to remove large sections of your nose), says Dr. Khorasani.
What Should You Do Today?
If you’re currently seeing a board certified dermatologist who does total body skin cancer screenings, great. Ask them for a total body skin cancer screening.
If you aren’t seeing a board certified dermatologist specializing in skin cancer, or haven’t seen one recently, now is the time to find one. Make sure they specialize in skin cancer, and make sure they offer total body skin cancer screenings. Skin Cancer Free can help you find one in your area here.
If you feel you can’t afford to see a dermatologist, Skin Cancer Free can help you find a free total body skin cancer screening in your local area here.
No matter what, please don’t wait. I was fortunate enough to have a dermatologist with a skilled eye and a focus on skin cancer, and she saved my life. If you are in Southern California, I’ll be glad to give her name and details to you if you contact me here.
Get a local screening from a board certified dermatologist.
*1 Board Certification – American Board of Dermatology, American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology