Skin cancer showing up in younger people. Is the sun to blame?
When William Ensling was a young man, he thought nothing of the painful, blistering sunburns he would get while he was out fishing or working construction.
“We didn’t really know that much about it then, or that it was really bad for you,” he said.
Three years ago, Ensling’s wife, Clementine, told him a trip to the doctor was in order after he found a small, dark spot on his shoulder that hadn’t been there a few years before.
Since then, Ensling, 75, a Norwich resident, has had seven melanomas removed from all over his body — arms, back, shoulders, legs and stomach. Two of the Enslings’ five children are fair-skinned, and one has even had a few suspicious spots removed.
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. The group expects 59,940 new melanomas to be diagnosed in 2007. While it’s most common among the elderly, doctors said they’re seeing a gradual increase of young patients.
“Age-wise, I’m seeing people between 40 and 90 years old mostly, but I also took a melanoma off a 17-year-old,” said Dr. Howard Rogers, a dermatologist on staff at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. “I’m taking more and more skin cancers off people in their 20s. The most common patients I see are women who do tanning in the booths, or men who do construction all summer in the sun.”
The most frequently noted symptoms of skin cancer include a change in the symmetry, border, color or diameter of a mole or spot on the skin. These can occur in each of the three types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (which are not likely to spread to other parts of the body) and melanoma — and also can appear in the form of a mark or lesion that wasn’t on the skin previously.
Rogers said even those who apply sunscreen don’t always do enough to protect themselves from a severe burn. It’s important to reapply after going in the water or if it’s been a few hours since you put it on, he said.
“You really need an SPF of at least 30 and to have enough on that you really have almost a white sheen from it on your skin,” he said. “One tiny little capful is not enough to protect yourself or your kids.”
Children are particularly at risk because recent studies have linked significant sunburns during childhood to a greater chance of developing skin cancer later on.
“Just one blistering sunburn in childhood can double the risk of getting melanoma later in life,” said Dr. Perry Robins, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation.
For starters, don’t head out into the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., because rays are at their strongest then. Experts also recommend wearing a hat and sleeved clothing to remain cool but keep the sun off as much skin as possible.
Clementine Ensling said she makes sure her grandson is lathered in sunscreen before he heads outdoors to play during the summer.
Though her husband has endured the removal of his skin cancer well, she said the experience scared her into being proactive. The Enslings now use sunscreen and avoid being outside during the hottest times of the day.
“Everything turned out all right for us, but it was very scary. You figure, we’re getting older, everyone has spots,” she said. “But you don’t know if it’s spread or affected anything else. It’s just better to be cautious before and not have to worry about it later.”
Contact Amy Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Changes in size, shape or color of a skin lesion.
- New lesion growth on skin.
- A sore that doesn’t heal.
By the Numbers
- One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
- More than 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure.
- In Connecticut, 1,120 cases of melanoma of the skin are expected to be diagnosed in 2007.
- An estimated 10,850 deaths from skin cancer across the country will occur in 2007.
Source: American Cancer Society
- Limit or avoid exposure to sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Children in particular should be protected from the sun because severe sunburns in childhood greatly increase the risk of melanoma in later life.
- When outdoors, wear a hat that shades the face, neck and ears.
- Wear sunglasses to protect the skin around the eyes.
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
Source: The Skin Cancer Foundation
SPF: Stands for Sun Protection Factor. The number is determined indoors, by exposing human subjects to a light spectrum meant to mimic noontime sun. It is a measure of ray protection from ultraviolet light, or UVB.