Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Melanoma revisited

Some of you may remember that I posted about melanoma a couple of weeks ago. It is a disease that weighs heavily on my mind often. I have about on average one mole burned off or cut out of my skin every year. Recently, I just had my 25th mole removed. So far, I've been very lucky. All of my biopsies have come back completely normal.

My brother wasn't so lucky. When he was 27, he was diagnosed with stage three melanoma (there are only four stages). My family and I are very grateful that he was able to win his battle with skin cancer and is now a healthy 34 year old.

My brother and I both had tanned and burned a lot when we were younger, and each of us had one blistering burn before the age of 18. We didn't know at the time that even just one blistering burn as a child increases your chances of having melanoma as an adult by 50%.

In today's Houston Chronicle, I was dismayed to read an article about skin cancer and British women. It seems that melanoma is now the most common cancer in young British women. In England, the agency, Cancer Research United Kingdom, reports that melanoma has overtaken cervical cancer as the most common cancer afflicting women in their 20s.

The article goes on to say that these recent research results are particularly distressing, because rates of skin cancer are usually the highest in individuals over 75, not people in their 20s. Researchers there believe that melanoma will become the fourth most common cancer for both genders by the year 2024.

Not surprisingly, experts believe the rising trend in skin cancer cases is due to the use of tanning salons. And here is an amazing statistic that I didn't know: the intensity of UV rays in some tanning beds can be more than 10 times stronger than the midday sun. Scary.

When I was in my late teens, I remember many of my friends and other girls I knew flocking to tanning salons. I went a few times myself but didn't go as frequently as many other girls my age; I just never had the patience to lie there in those beds; plus my tendency toward claustrophobia didn't help either. I also hated the thought of resting my skin in the same spot as countless other females did mostly naked. (I am an anti-germ weirdo!) I'm thankful now that I had such an aversion to tanning salons.

There are so many aspects of our health that we can control, but all too often we are too lazy or just irresponsible and don't take simple measures to ensure healthy aging. With what we've discovered about skin cancer over the last decade or so, we now know that there are a few simple measures to avoiding melanoma: avoid too much sun exposure (especially midday sun), use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and stay away from tanning salons.

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