With summer around the corner, more of us will be hitting the beach, engaging in our favorite outdoor activities and unfortunately, increasing our exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. Many of us may feel our penchant for outdoor exercise and recreation are the reasons the skin cancer rates have increased every year since 1970. Partially true, according to Ramsay Camp, MD, director of MUSC’s Jenny Sullivan Sanford Melanoma & Skin Cancer Program.
“Skin cancer screening methods and an aging population are the likely culprits that explain this upward trend in skin cancer cases,” he said.
Part of the problem in preventing skin cancer is that most people absorb a vast majority of the UV rays at an early age, Camp said. Still, the public health and medical communities, combined with the sunscreen manufacturers, have done such a good job of raising awareness of the signs of skin cancer, more and more people seek out evaluation for suspicious moles and lesions, he said. And, parents do a better job of protecting their children with sunscreen and hats for instance.
Despite best efforts, however, the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 1,000 South Carolinians will be diagnosed with invasive melanoma of the skin in 2011, making it the 5th most prevalent cancer in South Carolina, Camp said. And while an emphasis on prevention can help larger groups of people, Dr. Camp also concerns himself with helping his patients identify new moles and notice changes in the appearance of existing moles.
Early signs of melanoma are changes to the shape or color of existing moles or in the case of nodular melanoma, the appearance of a new lump anywhere on the skin (such lesions should be referred without delay to a dermatologist). At later stages, the mole may itch, ulcerate or bleed. Early signs of melanoma are summarized by the mnemonic “ABCD”:
• Borders (irregular)
• Color (variegated), and
• Diameter (greater than 6 mm (0.24 in), about the size of a pencil eraser)
These classifications also apply to the most dangerous form of melanoma, nodular melanoma, which has its own added classifications called EFG:
• Elevated above the skin surface, also Evolving or changing shape over time
• Firm to the touch
Dr. Camp urges his patients to be aware of moles and to alert any noticed changes to their primary care doctor or dermatologist for further evaluation.
“In many instances, the mole is not cancerous and patients are relieved,” he said. “But if it is, we want to catch it as early as possible to have the best chance for removing the lesion and preventing a more serious condition down the road,” he said. For more information about cancer and South Carolina, visit the website of South Carolina Cancer Alliance.