More Skin Cancer Awareness Means More Diagnoses

Kevin Berman, MD, PhD Health Guide
  • Hi everyone. Today I want to talk about the rise in skin cancer diagnoses over the last few years. Many people wonder why the number of skin cancer diagnoses continues to rise despite the increase in our knowledge about proper sun protection. After all, we should be better at preventing skin cancer now than at any other time in the past - one would think that these numbers would be trending downward rather than upward.


    Estimates from the American Cancer Society suggest that in 2007, approximately 60,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed and over 8,000 people will die from melanoma. Data collected over the past 30 years shows that the greatest increase in diagnosed cases of skin cancer (melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma) is in the over 55 age group. This may be the result of an increased incidence of skin cancer or it may result from an increased number of suspicious moles being biopsied. Because of greater public awareness, more people are seeking mole checks so the numbers may continue to increase in the coming years. However, it is not clear if skin cancer is occurring more often now than in the past or if it just being found more often because of greater awareness and increased access to healthcare.

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    Urban areas where dermatologists are accessible show higher rates of skin cancer diagnoses. This makes sense if we assume more and more people are getting their skin checked. Also, as public awareness of skin protection increases, many people are incorporating a skin check into their yearly health maintenance program. To help people get into this habit, many hospitals along with local dermatologic organizations try to provide a free yearly skin cancer screening. The first Monday in the month of May has become known as "Melanoma Monday" and across the country, there are doctors who will provide skin cancer screenings to help boost public awareness on this day. At these screenings, a dermatologist (or other health professional) will check the moles and note anything that looks suspicious. This allows a person to then go see a dermatologist to have the lesion examined again and perhaps have a biopsy performed if cancer is still suspected. These types of screenings catch many skin cancers which would have otherwise gone undiagnosed. I encourage anyone who does not regularly see a dermatologist to try to attend one of these screenings.


    As public awareness increases, more individuals are performing self skin exams. While everyone should perform this type of exam monthly, some people are at higher risk of skin cancer than others. Men over the age of 50 are at higher risk of skin cancer as are people who have had previously diagnosed skin cancer. Individuals with fair skin and excessive sun exposure are also at higher risk. Family members of a person with melanoma are also at higher risk. The self skin exam is best done with the aid of a large mirror and a partner who can look at the "hard-to-see" places, especially on the back. The goal of the self skin exam is to note any new or changing lesions or to take notice of any area that just doesn't look normal. Because changes in moles could indicate cancer or a precancerous lesion, these should be mentioned to your dermatologist. As more people become more aware of their own skin, more changes are being noticed and more skin cancer is being diagnosed.


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    The trend for the immediate future is for the number of diagnosed skin cancers to increase as public awareness increases. Hopefully, despite the increased numbers, we will be catching the cancers at much earlier stages, resulting in fewer deaths and complications. A skin cancer found early can be easily treated, whereas long standing cancers can grow deep and affect nerves or spread to other parts of the body. So, remember to check your skin regularly and bring any concerning lesion on your skin to the attention of your dermatologist.


Published On: October 05, 2007