Melanoma: Both Among Deadliest Cancers & Easiest to Catch Early

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While it’s still important that the public continue to protect itself against COVID-19, the Oregon Health Authority says it’s also a good time to catch up on other important areas of our health we may have let slide. One of the easiest areas to overlook is our skin.

The deadliest form of skin cancer is melanoma. Some people may be surprised to learn that Oregon ranks in the top 10 for rates of melanoma cases and related deaths. The good news is there is plenty you can do about it.

Oregon Health & Sciences University’s (OHSU) Department of Dermatology recently launched a statewide public health campaign called Melanoma Stands Out. It’s dedicated to promoting early detection and prevention of melanoma. Early detection is crucial to surviving melanoma, and spotting it is not difficult.

From 2017 through 2019, OHSU offered free skin screening to the public. In each of those three years, 1-2% of those who were screened had an invasive melanoma they didn’t know about.

“You know 100 people; I know 100 people,” said Dr. Sancy Leachman, M.D., Ph.D, professor and chair, OHSU department of dermatology. “If one out of 100 have a melanoma and they don’t know about it, we can absolutely save someone’s life by recommending they look at their skin. We can all do that. It should be part of everyday life.”

The biggest myth about skin cancer

One of the biggest myths is that skin cancer is not dangerous. On the contrary, melanoma is one of the most aggressive types of cancer and can spread to other organs very quickly. The Start Seeing Melanoma website contains a wealth of educational resources, empowering people and their loved ones to find skin cancers and get medical attention early.

  • People with melanoma have a 99% survival rate when treated early. That drops to 30% when caught late.
  • Melanoma stands out. It’s the only cancer you can spot and stop with your eyes and take action to stop. By checking your skin, you could save your life.

What role, if any, does skin color play in skin cancer risk?

Although skin cancer rates are lower in darker skin types, people with skin of color can still get skin cancer. Unfortunately, on darker skin, cancers (including melanoma) are often found at later stages and are more difficult to treat.

In people with darker skin, the most common type of melanoma occurs on the palms and soles of the feet. If you see a changing growth anywhere on your skin (including areas that have had minimal or no sun exposure), show it to a medical professional as soon as possible.

Tips for preventing melanoma:

  • Check your skin monthly for any marks that looks new or different from other marks. If you see something, especially if it looks like it’s changing, get it checked out by a medical professional.
  • If you have a high-risk factor, have your skin examined by your medical provider once a year. High-risk factors include light-colored skin, freckles, red hair, a lot of moles or moles that are big, if you’ve had skin cancer or a member of your family has had skin cancer, if you have severe sun damage or if you are immunosuppressed. Men with light-colored skin or outdoor workers over age 55 are particularly vulnerable as well, including firefighters and farmers/ranchers.
  • Never allow the sun to burn your skin.
  • Clothing is the best protection.
  • Wear hats and sunglasses.
  • Use sunscreen, preferably with the minerals titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide.
  • Don’t expose yourself to unnecessary sunlight. Stand under a tree or other source of shade while you’re outside. Do your outside exercises or other activities in the morning or evening, when the sun is lower in the sky, rather than midday when the sun is high.
  • Learn more at Start Seeing Melanoma.

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