How to spot skin abnormalities
When checking for skin melanomas, use the ABCDE rule:
A: Asymmetry, mole is not a geometric shape (circle, oval)
B: Border irregularity, no regular border on mole
C: Color variability, mole is not a consistent color
D: Diameter/dark, mole is bigger than ¼ inch or very dark in color
E: Evolution, size or appearance of mole changing over time
Reminder: Check moles at least once a year. Don’t neglect areas like the bottom of the feet or the back.
Young women are eight times more likely to develop skin cancer today than they were 40 years ago — and young men are four times as likely to battle the disease, according to a study by Mayo Clinic researchers.
In a study of Olmstead County, Minn., residents, Mayo Clinic researchers discovered that first-time diagnosis for cutaneous melanomas — a dangerous skin cancer with a high probability of spreading — has soared among 18- to 39-year-olds since 1970.
The increasing popularity of indoor tanning beds could be largely to blame for the spike in the incidence of skin cancer among that age group , the study’s authors say.
“Despite public health education campaigns designed to decrease behaviors that lead to excessive UV light exposure, children, adolescents and adults continue to put themselves at risk,” the authors wrote.
What causes teens and young adults to risk their health for a healthy glow? Peer pressure might be a driving factor.
“A lot of girls might be saying, ‘Lets go tanning together,’” said Emily Wisniewski, a senior at Appleton North High School.
Neither Wisniewski nor her friends tan indoors, but she says the number of girls who visit tanning salons increases each year before prom and the start of summer.
Dermatologists say contemporary body image ideals do little to help.
“It’s really hard to fight against fashion,” said Douglas Horan, a dermatologist with Affinity Medical Group. “If they’re getting ready for their wedding or their prom or the beach, they don’t want to be the one with really pale skin. It’s really hard to fight against that tide.”
Though he constantly warns patients of the dangers of tanning and reminds them of proper sunscreen use, Horan said it’s tough to get through to younger patients.
“These people can’t imagine being 30, let alone having skin cancer,” he said.
Lynda Poeschl, 57, a Town of Algoma resident who often tanned in her youth, is paying the price for the hours she spent baking in the sun. She first had basal cell carcinomas removed from her skin while she still was in high school, and has undergone the procedure 11 times over the past decade.
Basal cell carcinomas usually appear as a round, raised patch of pink or white skin. They are usually less dangerous than skin melanomas, which are more likely to spread. Both types of skin cancer have been linked to UV exposure, which Poeschl thinks might have been the cause of her ongoing battle.
“Back in the day, we didn’t put on sunscreen,” she said. “The big thing was baby oil. We were basically frying our skin. … I think a lot of the damage my generation has is from when we were children.”
Today, dealing with skin cancer is a way of life for Poeschl. She checks her skin daily and notes any changes in a diary, which she shows to Horan — her dermatologist — during her regular six-month exam.
Each time she finds a cancerous growth, doctors must shave off slices of the affected area and examine the slice under a microscope. The process continues until no basal cells appear, and then Poeschl’s skin is stitched together to heal. It’s not a pleasant process, she said.
Skin melanomas require a more intensive treatment plan. If the cancer is in the early stages of development, the mole and surrounding tissue is removed, said ThedaCare radiation oncologist Nathan Munson.
But if the cancer is diagnosed in a later stage, patients also must undergo up to six weeks of radiation treatment because the cancerous cells can move to lymph nodes surrounding the area.
Indoor Tanning Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group that promotes indoor tanning, disputes the findings of the Mayo Clinic’s study because it says the population of Olmsted County does not fairly represent the U.S. population. Because such a high percentage of the study’s population is of “Scandinavian/Nordic ancestry,” the residents already are at a higher risk for skin cancer, the press release said.
“The fact is there is no consensus among researchers regarding the relationship between melanoma skin cancer and UV exposure either from the sun or a sunbed,” Indoor Tanning Association said in an email statement.
But Peter Katz, a dermatologist who works at the Fox Valley branch of Dermatology Associates of Wisconsin, says there’s a stockpile of scientific studies that link excessive UV exposure to an increased incidence of skin cancer.
While Katz agrees the population of Olmstead County doesn’t perfectly represent the U.S. population, he says it’s a perfect representation of the “type of people flocking to tanning salons.”
Poeschl said everyone — especially younger generations at risk for skin cancer — should be more cautious during their time outdoors and should examine their skin for changes in appearance early.
“Just be aware of your body,” she said.
— Megan Nicolai: 920-993-1000, ext. 290, or email@example.com; on Twitter @MeganNicolai