The American Cancer Society has released its annual statistics report for 2019, giving us even more reason to step up our sun-care routine.
This year's report found that skin cancer is still the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the U.S., and melanoma skin cancer diagnoses continue to rise. In 2019, new cases of melanoma are expected to increase by about 5.7 percent, from 91,270 news cases in 2018 to a projected estimate of 96,479 new cases in 2019.
"More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined, [and] skin cancer incidence — including both melanoma and non-melanoma — has been on the rise," says Elizabeth Goldberg, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and a spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation. "[But] there is one positive way to interpret these statistics: We're finding more skin cancer because more people are getting screened for skin cancers than ever before, which shows that awareness efforts are working."
What Do the Findings Mean?
In other words, all that preaching we constantly do about slathering on sunscreen and seeing your dermatologist every year for a skin screening? It's working. Not exactly, but you know what we're saying — more people seeing their doctors for screenings is resulting in a greater number of melanoma cases being diagnosed, rather than flying under the radar.
While this is not necessarily bad news, more diagnoses could mean that people are generally becoming more educated about the warning signs for melanoma, as well as getting screened. Perhaps even more hopeful is the finding that while melanoma is being diagnosed more, the death rate for the disease is expected to decrease by 22 percent in 2019.
"Dermatologists, as a whole, are getting better at early detection of melanoma and skin cancers," explains Kelly Park, a board-certified dermatologist in Hines, Illinois. "We are [also] raising more public awareness on the importance of skin care and sun protection and encouraging skin examinations, so patients are coming in earlier for skin cancer screenings."
And when melanoma — or any type of cancer, skin or otherwise — is caught earlier, treatment is often more successful than it would be in later stages. However, even later-stage skin cancers are proving easier to treat, thanks to technological and scientific advances. "Even for advanced melanoma, we have newer and better treatments that can help with disease control and remission," Park explains. "Including immunotherapy, which uses the patient's immune system to 'fight off' the melanoma."
How to Spot Skin Cancer
Advancing technology aside, it still pays off to be vigilant. A quick refresher on the ABCDEs of melanoma, which dermatologists "regularly use to teach patients about what to look for," according to Park.
A is for asymmetry, B is for border (which may be uneven or irregular), C is for color (white, red, and blue can signal irregularity, and color can also have shades of tan, brown, or black), D is for diameter (per the American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma is usually the size of a pencil eraser when diagnosed, but it can be smaller), and E is for evolution, which means that the mole changes in shape and appearance over time. Keep an eye on your skin — it's your largest organ — and if you notice any of these signs, book an appointment with your dermatologist.
More Than Melanoma: The Other Types of Skin Cancer
Unfortunately, what you need to know about skin cancer doesn't stop with melanoma. Although melanoma gets its fair share of the skin cancer limelight, there's another form of skin cancer that is linked to twice as many annual deaths as melanoma: Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
"The skin is made up of numerous cell types, each of which is susceptible to malignant transformation," explains Susan Bard, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. "Melanocytes are responsible for making pigment and are found deep in the skin, [and] squamous cells compose the upper layer of the skin and produce keratin. While both can develop the ability to metastasize, melanoma is much more likely to do so."
The Takeaway: Early Detection Is Crucial
OK, but what does this all mean for you? Both can benefit from early detection and treatment. More on what to look out for: melanomas often resemble moles, and they're most commonly found on the trunk in men, legs in women, and upper back of both genders. SCC is most commonly found in areas exposed to the sun, such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, the face, balding scalp, neck, hands, arms, and legs. These look like scaly red patches, open sores, or elevated growths that can crust or bleed.
If you believe you have one (or more) of these early signs, make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist for a skin check. Better yet, make an appointment right now — you can never be too safe.
More on skin cancer:
- What Does Skin Cancer Look Like? A Visual Guide
- Skin Cancer Is on the Rise — Even Though We All Know About Sunscreen
- New Research Shows Which U.S. States Have the Highest and the Lowest Skin-Cancer Rates
Now, see how sun care has evolved within the last 100 years: