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A recent study indicates public health efforts to warn younger Americans about the dangers of sun exposure may be paying off. While all forms of skin cancer have been on the rise in recent decades, a recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control shows that melanoma diagnoses have dropped among Americans aged 15 to 44 over the last 10 years, while increasing significantly among all white adults during the same time period.

These statistics are somewhat encouraging. While today's youth has been exposed to warnings about sun and tanning bed exposure since birth, those who are older than 55 grew up in an era where slathering on baby oil to catch some rays was a cultural norm. Twenty or 30 years down the road, their cells are paying the price.

Melanoma is the third most common type of skin cancer, but also the deadliest. Each year, more than 70,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with melanoma, and more than 9,000 die from it. Melanoma is often caused by overexposure to UV rays from the sun or artificial sources like indoor tanning beds. As of the most recent data, more than 70 percent of all melanoma cases are found in adults over the age of 55.

It's certainly not unusual for our skin to change and develop marks or spots as we age, but given the increasing rates of skin cancers in this country, we must be vigilant about protection and early detection practices. Experts recommend making sun protection -- with a minimum SPF of 15 -- part of your everyday routine, even when you are not engaged in regular outdoor activity. Incidental sun exposure is often overlooked as a potential risk factor. When spending any significant amount of time outdoors, wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen to all areas of exposed skin, especially during midday hours when the sun is at its most intense.

As for detection, experts point to the ABCDE rule for evaluating new or existing spots or moles on the body:

• A for Asymmetry -- one half of a mole or birthmark that doesn't match the other

• B for Border -- the edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred

• C for Color -- the color is not the same all over; may include varying shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white or blue

• D for Diameter -- the spot is larger than 1/4-inch across, or the size of a pencil eraser

• E for Evolving -- the mole is changing in size, shape or color

There are simply no hard and fast rules about the appearance or evolution of melanomas, so it's critical to have your skin evaluated by a qualified physician each year, and to alert him or her to any new or changing spots on your skin.

If melanoma or other skin cancer is detected, it will be "staged" by your healthcare provider and options for treatment will be presented. For melanoma detected in its earliest stage, at the site of origin, five-year survival rates exceed 98 percent. This reinforces how critical regular screenings and self-exams are, particularly if you are at risk due to sun exposure throughout your life.

If you need a full skin evaluation, schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor. Dr. E. Beth Harp, family medicine provider, is accepting new patients. If you would like to schedule an appointment, contact Siloam Springs Family Medicine at 479-215-3035. Dr. Harp is a Member of the Siloam Springs Regional Hospital Medical Staff.

General News on 04/11/2018

Print Headline: Melanoma rates decline for younger people, boomers still at high risk

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