Commentary

Skin Deep

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As the snow melts and the freezing temperatures begin to abate, I cannot help but look forward to temperate days and the ability to warm my chilblained body in the sun. Ah, I can see myself now: wearing only a bathing suit, sitting in a comfortable beach chair, with a cool beverage in one hand and a good book in the other, wriggling my toes in the warm sand while the bright yellow sun beams down on my bare skin. At least that’s what I would do in the “good old days,” when “getting a little color” wasn’t considered a bad thing.

Oh, how times have changed! We have since learned that the sun is the enemy of our skin and one of the leading causes of skin cancer (tanning beds are the other).1 These days, we get daily warnings about the ill effects of too much sun exposure and cautions about avoiding those harmful UV rays. Even exposure years ago can increase our risk for skin cancer now or in future.

Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his/her lifetime.2 The incidence of nonmelanoma (basal and squamous cell) skin cancer in the United States has been reported at 3.5 million new cases annually; for melanoma, nearly 77,000 new cases were expected to be diagnosed in 2013 alone.3 More than 9,000 people die of melanoma annually.3

While these statistics are disturbing, the cure rate offers some reassurance. If melanoma is detected and treated early, before it has the chance to spread to the lymph nodes, the cure rate can be as high as 100%. The five-year survival rate for localized melanoma is 98%.3 And while not all melanoma is preventable, we can take an active role in reducing our risk—and educating our patients on how to protect themselves.

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