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Experts Seek a Melanoma Miracle

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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.

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