Did you know that up to 90 percent of skin changes that people think are related to aging are actually from the sun?

Excessive sun exposure can also lead to skin cancers. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. There are three types of cancer that are most commonly discussed:

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common skin cancer with about one million cases per year. While rarely fatal, it can be very disfiguring.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is another common form of skin cancer, with about 250,000 cases and 2,500 deaths per year.

Melanoma is the most serious skin cancer; it is less common than basal or squamous cell cancers, however Melanoma occurrences are growing faster than any other kind of cancer. Melanoma is often found in white men, but it also affects younger women with fair skin or with many moles. If detected early, the survival rate is nearly 99 percent.

For the past several years, many healthcare professionals have been stressing the dangers of using tanning beds, in relation to the risk of developing melanoma.  However, according to recent research, that message may not be getting through to many women.

A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that between 25 and 30 percent of young white women reported using an indoor tanning facility during the past year. Research has shown that tanning before the age of 35 increases risk of melanoma of up to 75 percent. Tanning before the age of 25 doubles the risk of melanoma.

Melanomas occur most frequently in people with light colored hair or iris eye color because their skin is more susceptible to ultraviolet light rays. Women that freckle and burn easily have an increased risk. Women who have a large number of moles (greater than 25) are also melanoma-prone.

Treatment for melanoma usually involves surgically removing the cancerous skin cells and some normal tissue that surrounds the cancer site. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, they may also need to be removed. Subsequent chemotherapy or immunotherapy may also be needed.

What should you look for?  Use the “ABCDE” method:

· Asymmetry: Melanomas generally have a shape that is not even on both sides. If you pictured the spot folded in half the sides would not match.

· Border Irregularity: The border of the spot is irregular and often notched. It may have a jagged appearance.

· Color variation: Although melanomas are usually dark brown or black, they may sometimes have a range of colors  including: tan, brown, blue, pink or white.

· Diameter: Eventually melanomas become larger than ordinary moles. Any pigmented spot greater than 6 millimeters (the size of a regular pencil eraser) in diameter should be examined and watched carefully.

· Evolution: Some early melanomas begin to increase in size, elevation, color or sensation.  A lesion that begins to change in this fashion should be checked immediately.

Melanoma in advanced stages is difficult to treat. Avoid the urge to visit the tanning salons and use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. If you experience any of the “ABCDE” signs, seek medical advice.

For more information on skin cancer, to sign-up for a cancer prevention class or to connect with a physician specializing in skin cancer treatment, visit StLukes-StL.com.