Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer; the American Cancer Society estimates around 11,590 people died from skin cancer in 2009 alone. According to Dr. Harold Brody of the American Academy of Dermatologists, someone dies of skin cancer about every hour. Despite these facts, people (especially young adults) remain surprisingly cavalier in their attitude toward skin cancer. The common attitude seems to be "even if I get it, I'll just have it taken off- it's not like it'll kill me." In case you're wondering, I'm not making that up- I've actually had people look me in the face and say things like that!
Yes, the good news is that if caught early, skin cancer is highly treatable. Melanoma, the type of cancer that causes the most deaths (it can spread to other parts of the body if not identified and treated early) has a 5-year survival rate of around 91%, though it can go as high as 99% and as low as 16% depending on what stage the cancer is found in. The bad news is that the treatment can be painful, costly, and potentially disfiguring.
The photo above is of a 23-year-old woman, about a year after she discovered a dark brown spot at the base of her neck. After 2 surgeries (the cancer returned 8 months after the initial treatment) she was left with a scar almost 3 feet long.
Luckily, this is all largely avoidable. According to the American Cancer society, unprotected and/or excessive exposure to UV radiation from the sun is a major risk factor, but there are a few more to be aware of:
- having a fair complexion
- occupational exposure to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds, or radium
- family history
- multiple or atypical moles
- severe sunburns as a child
While skin cancer death rates have been dropping for those under the age of 50, it remains one of the most common forms of cancer for young adults, so be aware and protect yourself.