Long gone are the days of lying on the roof, skin covered in baby oil, hair covered in sun-in — mixed with peroxide and lemon juice — listening to a mix tape of Journey and Air Supply on my walkman. Now, I know better and I listen to my 80s love ballads on my iPod. Like the generation before us did with cigarette smoking, we now also blame our cancer on our ignorance. I can only imagine what my children will be saying. I fear it will go something like, “We didn’t know texting could cause …” Let’s just hope the only end of that sentence is “… poor communication skills.” Despite increasing awareness, melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the U.S. Here are five other facts you may find interesting.
1. Men and women have a 1 in 41 and 1 in 61 chance of developing melanoma respectively. It is most common in Caucasians, but can affect people of every race and skin type. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in young adults aged 25-29.
2. The greatest contributor to the development of melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet rays — sunlight and tanning beds. One bad sunburn at a young age can double the risk of developing melanoma — uh oh. Using tanning beds before the age of 30 can triple your chances of developing this cancer. Uh oh. Uh oh. Uh oh.
3. Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body. In addition to UV exposure, family history and having fair skin and light eyes also increases your risk. But, don’t get too comfortable if you have dark skin. Bob Marley died of metastatic melanoma at the young age of 36. It started under his toenail.
4. Melanoma is, by far, the most dangerous of the skin cancers. If caught early, it can be cured. If it has progressed to a stage IV, the ten year survival is only about 15-20%.
5. A child’s exposure to the sun is three times that of an adult.
Since my parents’ idea of sunscreen was to make me wear a t-shirt when my shoulders started to blister, I have reason to be concerned. Be proactive. Look at your skin. Yes, I know, those full-length mirrors get more frightening with each passing year. Pour yourself a glass of wine, take a deep breath and then take a long look. If you notice any new skin lesions, if your moles and birthmarks look different or bigger than they used to, make an appointment with a dermatologist. Heck, make an appointment anyway. You should go every 6 months for a complete skin check. Then, a perfect stranger can do what you were too timid to do … look.
For some more information and tips on avoiding sun damage, take a look at The Promise Foundation website. When there, take a moment to read about the inspiration behind the conception of this organization — it will drive the point home. Melanoma is too common and too dangerous to ignore.