Spotlight on Health
May is Melanoma Awareness Month
by James M. Krell, M.D.
May is Melanoma Awareness month and is a time to think about how to prevent it! Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and arises from melanocytes, the pigment producing cells in the skin. Research suggests that nearly 90% of melanomas are caused from exposure to ultraviolet radiation. While originally ultraviolet exposure was only from the sun (both UVA and UVB), a great deal of ultraviolet exposure now comes from tanning beds, which are a deadly source of ultraviolet A (UVA) rays.
In 2016, it is expected that 76,000 Americans will be diagnosed with Stage I-IV melanoma and another 68,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma in situ (non-invasive melanoma). It is estimated that 10,000 Americans will die from melanoma in 2016 and there are an estimated 996,000 patients living with melanoma in the United States.
Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is responsible for about 75% of all skin cancer fatalities. Every hour, one person in the United States dies of melanoma and 15 people each hour are diagnosed with the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Although melanoma most commonly arises in the skin, it can be found anywhere on the body including the eyes, the mouth, and even on the bottom of the feet. The lifetime risk of getting melanoma is 1 in 40 for Caucasians, 1 in 1000 for African Americans, and 1 in 200 for Hispanics.
Although there is an increase in melanoma statistics in younger people (melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25-30), the average age of diagnosis is age 62.
The most important factor in reducing melanoma is early detection. Look for moles that are changing in size, shape, or color. It is crucial for people to have full skin examinations by a dermatologist. A 2007 study of 2000 Medicare patients from 12 US sites found that when comparing dermatologists to non-dermatologists, patients who had their melanoma detected by a dermatologist had thinner, earlier stage melanomas and better survival rates from their melanomas.
While melanoma can be deadly if caught too late, it is almost 100% curable if it is detected early and treated properly, usually by full and complete removal. This is why it is important that all Americans have skin exams when visiting their doctors for any reason, and why dermatologist — experts in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer — should be involved in evaluating any suspicious mole.
MD: Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA
Residency: Dermatology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
Chief Resident: Dermatology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA Board
Certification: American Board of Dermatology
Member: Jefferson County Medical Society, Alabama Dermatologic Society, American Medical Association,American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, Inc., Birmingham Academy of Medicine, American Contact Dermatitis Society, National Psoriasis Foundation, Council for Nail Disorders
Academic/Official Positions: Clinical Professor, University of Alabama at Birmingham; Past President of the Alabama Dermatologic Society; Vice Chairman of the Dermatology Foundation Leaders Society
Achievements: Author, lecturer, researcher and teacher
Any views expressed above are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of RTMD.