Skin cancer facts

Melanoma more common in Ohio than ‘sunshine states’

WARREN — More cases of melanoma have been diagnosed in Ohio than in the much sunnier states of Hawaii, South Carolina and Arizona.

“The number one risk factor for skin cancer is UV radiation from the sun as well as from tanning beds,” Trumbull Regional Medical Center cancer nurse navigator Kathryn Martin said.

Ohioans are more likely to seek out tanning beds to maintain what they believe is a healthy glow over the winter, Martin said. Looks can be deceiving.

“Some people say that tanning beds are less dangerous and provide much-needed Vitamin D,” Martin said. “There are two types of UV radiation — UVA and UVB. UVB does help with Vitamin D production, but tanning beds provide UVA.

“Melanoma cases in women under the age of 30 find 97 percent have used indoor tanning beds,” she said. “Most of us get enough Vitamin D in our diet and small amounts of sun exposure.”

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

Non-melanoma skin cancers carry a very low risk of death and make up 75 to 80 percent of all skin cancers. Squamous cell cancers are about 20 percent of skin cancer cases. Non-melanoma cancers usually stay in the epidermis, the most outer layer of the skin, Martin said.

Melanoma — which occurs when the pigment-producing cells that give color to the skin become cancerous — is the most dangerous, and potentially fatal, form of skin cancer.

“Melanoma is one of those early detection illnesses,” Martin said. Caught early, it’s almost always curable. Left unchecked, the cancer can spread to the lymph nodes and require chemotherapy.

“One in five people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime,” Dr. Roger Tokars, a Trumbull radiation oncologist, said.

Martin said 24 cases of melanoma were diagnosed in Trumbull County in 2018, and 20 in Mahoning County.

In Ohio, melanoma cases have been rising by about 500 cases a year for the last five years, Martin said. Health officials estimate that there will be 3,750 cases of melanoma in Ohio this year, about 330 of those cases fatal.

Hawaii reports 490 cases, South Carolina 1,810 and Arizona 2,340.

Luana Andamasaris, a radiation oncology nurse at Trumbull Regional, said, “The main thing about skin cancer is prevention. You need to wear sunscreen and stay out of tanning beds.”

Martin said, “As golf season and outdoor activities approach, being smart about sun protection goes a long way to prevention of skin cancer. Apply an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen daily and repeat every two hours or after swimming. For all-day outdoor activity sun exposure, a SPF of 30 or higher. (Wear) large-brimmed hats, long sleeves and sun glasses.

“Remember when boating or spending time at the beach, UV rays actually bounce off water, sand, and snow in the winter,” she said.

“For those women who get gel manicures, the lamp used is also a source of UV radiation. For protection, apply sunscreen prior to manicure,” she said.

Since melanoma and other skin cancers can appear anywhere on the body — but most frequently on the top of the head and on the face — Martin recommends a scheduling a yearly exam from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet by a dermatologist or family doctor.

Andamasaris said monthly self-examinations are important as well.

Martin suggested an alphabet method of self-examination of spots or moles on the skin:

A — Asymmetry, which means one half is unlike the other half;

B — Border or edges are irregular or poorly defined;

C — Colors that vary. Areas or moles that contain different colors and shades of brown, tan, black, red or even blue are areas of concern. Less common are flesh color, pale pink or reddish;

D — Diameter. Melanomas are most often greater than 6 millimeters, the size of a pencil eraser, but can smaller;

E — Evolving or changing spots, or spots that look different that the other moles or skin discolorations.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanomas often resemble moles and some develop from moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white.

Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure — frequently leading to sunburn– especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

The cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations that make skin cells multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors, the foundation reported.

Signs of non-melanoma skin cancer include a firm raised lump on the skin that is most often red or purple and not painful, though it can become crusty or irritated and give discomfort, Martin said.

bcole@tribtoday.com

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