We know some of our loyal readers are medical professionals, skin cancer patients and caregivers. Many of you are as invested in skin cancer-related news and research as we are! Here’s a look back at a few 2017 headlines that got our attention.
Indoor Tanning: Good News and Bad News
Despite the well-documented link between indoor tanning and skin cancer risk, many people can’t seem to break the habit. But that might be starting to shift: The percentage of U.S. high school students who use tanning beds dropped by more than 50 percent from 2009 to 2015, according to a 2017 study. How did this happen? The study authors pointed to several factors, including increased public awareness (go SCF!), implementation of a 10 percent excise tax on tanning and the FDA’s reclassification of tanning devices from Class I (devices with lower potential for harm, such as elastic bandages) to Class II (devices with moderate to high potential for harm). Plus, several states have taken the initiative to ban minors from indoor tanning. This year West Virginia and Oklahoma became the 14th and 15th states to do so.
This is all encouraging, but there is still a long way to go. Two studies this year offered further discussion of the idea that tanning may be addictive. Most tanning studies we’ve seen over the years have focused on women, but one of these new studies focused on men. Although men are less likely than women to use tanning beds, the study showed, they are more likely to get hooked on it once they start. Forty-nine percent of men who used tanning beds fit a pattern of dependent behavior around tanning; for example, they spent money on tanning even when they couldn’t afford it, and reported feeling anxious if they couldn’t tan. Researchers suggest that these people might not respond to the standard message that tanning is bad for you and instead may need to be treated like a person with a dependency.
Faster Treatment Leads to Better Outcomes
We can’t stress enough how important it is to seek treatment for skin cancer as quickly as possible after a diagnosis. Treating a skin cancer in its earliest stages means less invasive procedures, a smaller chance of disfigurement, lower odds of spreading and a better outcome. One 2017 study found that treating stage I melanoma patients more than 30 days after a biopsy increased mortality risk by 5 percent. That risk went up to 16 percent at the 60-day mark, 29 percent at 90 days and 41 percent after 119 days. Delaying a diagnosis isn’t good, either. If you’ve been putting off having a suspicious spot checked, make an appointment ASAP.
On the Lookout for New Moles
You’re on the lookout for changing moles — but are you looking for new ones? Some (probably exhausted) researchers reviewed 38 published studies that collectively looked at 20,126 melanomas. They found that just 29 percent of melanomas arose from an existing mole, while 71 percent appeared as new growths on what had formerly appeared to be normal skin. The researchers also found that melanomas arising from existing moles were thinner and thus had a better prognosis than the other melanomas.
“These results could indicate that patients who monitor their existing moles for suspicious changes could detect melanoma in its early stages, when it’s most treatable,” says study author Caterina Longo, MD, PhD, a dermatologist at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy. “Because the disease is more likely to appear as a new growth, however, it’s important for everyone to familiarize themselves with all the moles on their skin and look for not only changes to those moles, but also any new spots that may appear.”
Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer Rates Continue to Rise
It can be hard to pin down exact numbers of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) cases, because doctors don’t have to report them to state registries. Still it’s clear that the incidence of these skin cancers has skyrocketed in recent years, and unfortunately that doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon. Between 2000 and 2010 SCC diagnoses increased 263 percent and BCC diagnoses increased 145 percent, according to one study of adults in Olmstead County, Minnesota. The study authors speculated that the emergence of tanning beds in the 1980s led to this increase, and noted that ultraviolet damage from the sun and tanning beds is cumulative — the sunburns and tans of your youth can lead to skin cancer diagnoses later in life.
Sharing Stories Saves Lives
When celebrities share health updates, people pay attention. This year Hugh Jackman and Bethenny Frankel shared stories and pictures of their skin cancer treatment. But now we know that ordinary people who share their stories on social media can raise awareness, too. A recent study in the journal Preventive Medicine looked at the impact of a Kentucky woman whose skin cancer selfie went viral. As Tawny Willoughby’s photo bounced around the internet, Google searches related to skin cancer rose dramatically. (In fact, traffic to SkinCancer.org went up about 60 percent during the same time!) As the year ends, we’re thinking of the many brave skin cancer patients who shared their stories with the world in 2017; people like Elaine Sheaf, Keely Daniel Jones and Jacqueline Smith. It’s likely their stories pushed many people to visit the dermatologist for a skin check, or start thinking seriously about sun protection. There’s no doubt they helped save many lives.