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Experts Seek a Melanoma Miracle


WebMD Health News

Aug. 8, 2000 (Nashville) -- Members of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) gathered here last week to learn about the vast array of research being conducted around the world on the detection, prevention, and treatment of melanoma. But the sobering news, according to Darrell S. Rigel, MD, past president of the AAD, is that "one in 74 Americans will develop invasive melanoma sometime during their lifetimes."

Despite prevention efforts, death rates for melanoma continue to rise in most parts of the world, and during the past 10 years, the number of cases of melanoma has increased more rapidly than that of any other cancer. Each year, nearly 42,000 new cases are reported to the American Cancer Society.

We're all at risk for melanoma -- some more than others, depending on family history, where we live and work, and our early sun exposure. And researchers are learning that even race, age, and gender can affect our risk of developing the most serious form of skin cancer.

Studies are also beginning to look at how occupations affect melanoma rates. One study found that male airline pilots have a three times greater risk of developing melanoma and female flight attendants have a 1.5 times higher rate. But researchers could not conclude whether the cause was due to increased radiation at higher altitudes or increased leisure time on beaches during layovers.

The greatest increase in melanoma appears to be in persons aged 60 to 79, probably because this group of people did not change their behavior and take protective measures in time to make a difference, according to Rigel. He is clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.

Other studies have explored gender and race. In one study of black Americans, a group that has traditionally been thought to have a relatively low risk of melanoma, scientists found increased risks for males exposed to sunlight, but no such risk for females.

Another study looked at melanomas in high latitudes and found that even people living in Antarctica were not safe from melanoma. The result was a surge in public education campaigns for sun protection in many regions where none existed before.

Better news from the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada show that melanoma rates are beginning to come down, due partly to an upsurge in sun protective measures. Over time, the increase in preventive behaviors is expected to affect other parts of Europe as well.

"All of this tells us that we have a long way to go in the fight against melanoma," Rigel says.

Vincent A. DeLeo, MD, associate professor in the department of dermatology at Columbia University in New York, tells WebMD, "Our message remains the same as it's always been." He says you can decrease your risk of melanoma by doing the following things:

  • Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
  • Cover up with appropriate clothing before going in the sun.

"The problem is, they're not totally protective. Avoidance of the sun is the best thing anyone can do to prevent melanoma and other skin cancers," he says.

These tips are particularly important for children, since 80% of a lifetime's sun exposure is experienced before the age of 18.

For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM or www.aad.org.

 

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