May marks a critical moment in our industry: skin cancer awareness month. This week, it all kicked off with #melanomamonday where we witnessed fantastic initiatives promoted by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), with #lookinggoodin2016 and the Melanoma Research Foundation’s #getnaked campaign. Even the Today show produced a segment on melanoma awareness focusing on the basic needs for personal and professional skin checks and reiterating the common ABCDEs of melanoma to look out for. It’s encouraging to see news outlets addressing this specific healthcare issue.
All this spells good news for our industry, and our fight against this virulent disease. But how far have we really come over the years?
The challenging news is that we’ve actually seen a rise in cases of skin cancer over the last three decades. Indeed, the 2015 CIC Skin Cancer Prevention Progress Report indicates that an estimated 5 million Americans are treated for skin cancer every year.¹ It remains the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the country, and unlike so many other forms of the disease, it is preventable. Not only does this cost our healthcare industry over $8.1 billion, but the most important costs are the lives of our friends, our families and our colleagues.² One in 50 Americans will be diagnosed with malignant melanoma this year. Around 10,000 will result in death.³
While it’s easy to become discouraged, especially as a physician who is presented with cases of skin cancer on a daily basis, there is progress to be seen on the horizon. Starting with the 2014 Surgeon General’s call to action to make skin cancer a higher priority, my peers and I are slowly seeing a more unified effort in the community to address skin cancer head on, acknowledging the risks of UV radiation from the sun and artificial sources such as tanning beds. The new legislation that is anticipated this summer on banning minors from tanning beds is progress in the right direction.
I predict that public awareness movements will grow with momentum and I hope that the knowledge gap for understanding the risk factors for skin cancer will develop in tandem. People need to know that it’s not just fair hair or fair eyes that pose a higher risk of skin cancer, but the incidence of many common moles and a family history of the disease. They need to know that an eye exam is just as important as a skin exam when it comes to screening for skin cancer, and they need to know that while skin cancer becomes more common as people age, young adults between the ages of 25 and 29 are a very high-risk group, particularly young women. Already we see the American Academy addressing the insights that men’s skin cancer knowledge lags behind that of women, but as dermatologists, we know that as a community, we still have a ways to go.