The Beatles sang a great song, "Here Comes the Sun." I love the sun; it makes a gray day... well, sunny. "Sunny, thank you for the sunshine in my life..."
Regardless of how much we love the sun, skin cancer is on the rise. So a rock group like No Doubt needs to come up with a song, "Here Comes the Sunscreen." Do you worship the sun?
I'm guilty of worshipping the sun– but that was in the past when I think we had more ozone. Now I cover myself up with so much sunscreen I look like a Geisha. Kinechiwa!
Melanoma is not a fruit. Melanoma is a skin cancer, and it's the sixth most common cancer in the U.S. If it's not treated in time, it's deadly. The rate of melanoma is increasing faster than any other cancer. Back in 1960, it was estimated 1 in 600 people would develop melanoma in their lifetime; in 2001 it was 1 in 71.
Yikes, that rate is growing faster than Microsoft.
About 55,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma and 8,000 die each year of the disease, but still I have many patients who still go to tanning beds. I wonder if their tanning beds are six feet under? What my patients often say is, "But I'm so pasty white! I look ill without a tan."
But if you're pasty white, you're more at risk for melanoma. Why not spray-on tans? I heard that some Bay Watch stars avoided the sun and used fake tans instead. (Fake boobs, fake faces, fake tans...)
Folks at risk of developing melanoma include those with family history of melanoma, sun-sensitive skin, suppressed immune systems, dysplastic moles or a bunch of moles. Moles can change in shape, color, or size and become cancer.
Maria Von Trapp sang, "When you read, you begin with A, B, C." Dr. Hong sings, "When you diagnose melanoma, you begin with ABCDE:
Asymmetry: If the mole doesn't look like a nice dot but more like a Valdez oil spill, there's a greater chance the mole is melanoma.
Border: If the edges of the mole are irregular– meaning not clear-cut and distinct– then oh, oh!
Color: A mole with different colors can be cancer.
Diameter: More than 6mm (head of a pencil eraser) can be a bad sign.
Enlargement: If your mole is growing, you probably should get it biopsied off.
The earlier you cut off a melanoma, the better the prognosis. You don't want a melanoma to get very deep into the skin because it will hitchhike all over your body and wreak havoc.
Did you think melanoma was the only thing you had to worry about. Think again. Other types of skin cancers can result from sun exposure, like basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and there are about 1.3 million cases of these cancers a year in the US.
While they're less deadly, they can be very disfiguring. If the cancer spreads enough, a person can lose his face in the process of removing the cancer. (And you thought "losing face" was only an Asian thing.)
The key is prevention. Hats are great to protect the head and face. I think the Red Hat Society should have a contest to see whose hat blocks the sun the most– like those big hats in My Fair Lady.
I tell most of my patients to wear sunscreen, SPF 15 or more, if they're going to be out in the sun more than 15-20 minutes. UV protected eyewear is important, too, because– believe it or not– melanoma can occur in the eye.
As if cancer weren't a big enough worry, the sun causes us to wrinkle. So if you don't want to look like a shar pei, grease up.
Got a medical question? Dr. Hook wants to hear from you!