Health Team

Doctor: Skin Cancer Patients Getting Younger and Younger

Posted April 23, 2008 1:52 p.m. EDT
Updated April 23, 2008 11:16 p.m. EDT

— 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.