New Study Shows Alarming Rise in Melanoma in Young Women

Dr. Hema Sundaram Health Guide

    Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, has been in the news of late. As I discussed previously, Presidential candidate John McCain has faced media speculation regarding his health status because he has been diagnosed with two melanomas over the past fifteen years, in addition to other non-melanoma skin cancers.


    Now, a new study from researchers at the National Cancer Institute which is reported in the Washington Post has revealed a dramatic alarming increase in the diagnosis of new melanoma cases in younger women, based on an analysis of government cancer statistics. The rate of diagnosis of new melanomas in women aged between 15 and 39 has risen 50 percent since 1980, even thought the rate did not increase for men within the same age range during the same time period.

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    What could be the cause of this alarming trend in young women? The National Cancer Institute study did not pose this question; however, the scientist who conducted the National Cancer Institute study, Mark Purdue, points out that the specific increase in melanomas in young women could be due to their spending more time outdoors and at indoor tanning salons. As I've discussed previously, nearly 30 million people in the U.S. use tanning salons every year, and 2.3 million of them are teens. Young women are much more likely to tan in tanning salons than are young men.


    In my dermatology practice in suburban Washington, DC, I've made skin cancer detection a priority for all my patients. Whether a patient is consulting me for a Botox treatment or for acne therapy, I offer her (or him) a total body examination for skin cancer screening; this examination is invariably covered by medical insurance. I always consider it good news when I detect a cancerous or precancerous growth in my patients, as early detection of skin cancers, including melanoma, is key to effective treatment and cure. I recommend that both women and men have a skin cancer screening with a board certified dermatologist once a year; this should be as much a part of regular health maintenance as an annual Pap smear or physical. If you have a personal or family history of skin cancer or pre-cancer, then I recommend that you have a skin cancer screening every six months.


    Sun safety is an equally important priority. But sunscreen is only effective if you use it. I find that many women are reluctant to use sunscreen if it makes their faces look oily or impairs the appearance of their make up. They are also hesitant to re-apply sunscreen during the day to optimize their sun protection, because this is time-consuming and they don't want to disrupt their make up and then have to reapply it.


    Because of the feedback that I've received from my patients about the challenges of using  traditional lotion, cream and spray sunscreens regularly, I've started offering my patients an alternative. It's a medical grade mineral powder sunscreen called Colorescience Sunforgettable SPF 30, which is dispensed from dermatologists' offices. It can be applied rapidly over the face and body and provides such effective sun protection that it is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation. Sunforgettable has proved to be a godsend to my female patients, and many of my male patients love it too. Because it is a powder, it can be easily re-applied during the day without spoiling your make up. It comes in several tints so it functions as both sunscreen and a make up. You can select a tint that matches your natural skin tone, or one that is a little darker if you prefer a bronzed look. (It's also available as a sparkling powder, which is great to brush over your face and body for a little evening glamour!) Unlike sunscreen lotions and creams, which can clog pores and promote breakouts, the natural minerals in Sunforgettable are anti-inflammatory and actually soothe skin and help to clear acne and rosacea. I've found that adding Sunforgettable to my patients' skin care regimes has greatly increased their compliance with sun protection and consequently, reduced their sun damage and improved their response to skin rejuvenation procedures such as Fraxel laser and Vitalize chemical peels.

Published On: July 12, 2008