Melanoma and Skin Cancer

Melanoma Figures

A few weeks ago, an article online caught my eye and broke my heart, ‘Melanoma Rising Among Middle-Aged Women’. It noted that the number of cases of melanoma–the potentially fatal and most dangerous form of skin cancer–in people between 40 and 60 has increased almost eight-fold in the last 40 years with the steepest incline in woman in their 40s.

Sadly, I’ve observed this worrisome trend in my own practice. Since people are becoming more aware of the dangers of sun exposure and tanning beds, you would think the numbers would be decreasing. But since skin cancer can take decades to develop, much of this is due to tanning and sunburn damage that happened years ago, even for those who use sun protection faithfully today. So if you’re in your 30s, 40s or beyond what to do now?

  • If you were a tanning devotee as a child, teen or 20s, carefully check your skin everywhere for suspicious moles or anything that might look like a pre-cancer. Have someone else look at your back on a regular basis too.
  • If you see anything remotely suspicious, seek medical attention immediately. This literally could be a matter of life or death.
  • If you have children, make sure that they use sunscreen protection every day. Your influence will wane as they reach their teens, of course, but do whatever you can. Perhaps the argument that they will look aged before their time may influence them more than cancer warnings will.

The real issue, of course, is that the tan is still seen as beautiful by all age groups and nowhere stronger than in teens today. Full disclosure, as a kid from Southern California I myself thought tans were gorgeous too when I was growing up despite my mother’s warnings. But my opinion and aesthetic all changed in a big way when I was studying dermatology. Today, as a skin professional, a tan looks to me like a broken leg looks to an orthopedist; an injury that is too serious to ignore.

To my eye, nature gets it right when it comes to skin color. I don’t like to see darker skin lightened and I don’t like to see fairer skin tanned. In a perfect world, we would embrace our natural pigment (or lack thereof) and see it for the beauty that it truly is.