Health Team

Doctor: Skin Cancer Patients Getting Younger and Younger

Posted April 23, 2008

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— In 1935, the lifetime risk of developing melanoma in the U.S. was one in 1,500 people. In 2000, it was one in 74. Now, in 2008, it's one in 58.

Dermatologists say they have been seeing this form of skin cancer more and more in younger patients.

Skin cancer specialist Dr. Robert Clark has many older patients, but Elaine Whitford came to him with her first basal cell cancer at age 25.

“In the past 20 years, I have had almost 40 spots of basal cell removed,” Whitford said.

Mike Jackson had one removed from under his eye.

“It was interesting being 24 and being told that, ‘Hey, you have skin cancer,’” he said.

Both Whitford and Jackson are fair-skinned, burn easily and grew up spending a lot of time in the sun. Clark said it’s not uncommon for doctors to see patients who are in their early 30s, or even the mid to late 20s.

Basal cell is one of three types of skin cancer and usually has a raised pearly margin around the perimeter. Squamous cell appears more scaly and red and is often larger in size. Melanoma is asymmetrical and the borders are irregular. People should look for variation in color, from light to dark brown, even black or blue.

All carcinomas may bleed.

“If there's any degree of bleeding or a sore that forms, that needs to be looked at,” Clark said.

Whitford and Jackson now prefer the shade and apply sunscreen regularly. They advise others to do the same.

“(I’m) realizing that this is a battle that I'm going to have to fight for the rest of my life – something I could have prevented when I was younger,” Jackson said.

To avoid skin cancer, it's best to avoid sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun's rays are the most damaging. If you have to be outside, use a sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 30.


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  • robertofthecats Apr 25, 2008

    The thing I'd like to know is:
    1. Are changes to the ozone layer contributing to increased skin cancer rates?
    2. Are tanning beds contributing to increased skin cancer rates?
    3. Does pollution weaken our immune systems and makes us more susceptible to increased skin cancer rates?
    4. Do food additives make us more susceptible to increased skin cancer rates?

    I wish the story addressed these questions (even if to say that a link between the cancers and these factors wasn't verified).

  • wolfpackmom Apr 24, 2008

    My mother died from a rare form of skin cancer that no one ever talks about it is called "Mycosis fungoides". She went from one doctor to the next before she was finally diagnose at Duke Hospital. The doctors at Duke said that she has probably had it for about 10 years. But it was to late she died from it a year later after it had spread to her spine and then brain. It thinks this needs to be discussed more so more doctors will be come familiar with it. Although there is not cure it can be control if caught early enough.