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Hey Guys, Don't Forget the Sunscreen


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April 26, 2001 (New York) -- The deadly skin cancer melanoma is three times more common among men aged 50 and older than in all other groups, a new finding that may partially explain the startling increase in rates of melanoma in the U.S.

Why? Well, that's a good question, says a panel of experts speaking here at a meeting sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

The answer may be that the messages about the importance of using sunscreen are targeted mainly toward women, says Darrel Rigel, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University in New York City. Excessive exposure to the sun's UV rays is the most important cause of melanoma.

The new study looked at more than 240,000 people who were screened for skin cancer as part of the AAD's National Skin Cancer Screening program. Of these, 3,476 people were suspected to have melanoma, and tests later confirmed that 364 did have melanoma.

Nearly 60% of the confirmed melanoma cases were found in men, and 44% were men over 50, says study author Barbara Gilchrest, MD, professor and chair of the department of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine.

"Middle-aged and older men are not detecting melanoma," she says. "It's startling for such a small population to have so many confirmed cases of melanoma. It's important that middle-aged and older men receive skin cancer education to help them detect melanoma in its early stage, when it is most curable."

Mark Minsky, a 50-year-old marketing researcher at Estee Lauder in New York, is one of the lucky ones.

"I am fortunate because my melanoma was found in its earlier stages," he says. His cancer was detected during a corporate screening program that, he confesses, he was very close to not attending.

During the screening, which took about 20 minutes, the screening dermatologist found five suspicious moles or spots on his body. Of those, two -- one on his leg and the other on his back -- were melanoma.

"Without the screening initiative I would never have known I had a problem," he says. Minsky had the cancer removed and has since become more vigilant and proactive about prevention.

"Melanoma is not a death sentence. It can be prevented, and if it's detected early, it's 95% curable," says Roger I. Ceilly, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Iowa in Des Moines, and the chief of the dermatology section at Iowa Methodist Medical Center.

The AAD has designated Monday, May 7 as "Melanoma Monday" and May as National Skin Cancer Detection month. During May, dermatologists will participate in special screening programs.

"Every year, more and more people develop skin cancer," he says.

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