Sun, Fun… and Melanoma in Marin
I like to listen to NPR on the way to and from the office, and I’m a proud supporter of KQED. Most of the time, the news is interesting but not immediately relevant to my work. But about a week ago, I heard a news brief about melanoma in the Bay Area (the press release can be found here: http://www.cpic.org/print/news-media/press-releases/2014/july-23-marin-melanoma-rates.aspx). Specifically, the report detailed a high and rising incidence of malignant melanoma among residents of Marin county. In fact, the incidence was 43% higher than in other Bay Area communities. And the burden in male patients was particularly high – second only to prostate cancer, the most common cancer in men nationwide.
The authors of the report mention some possible explanations. First, the increased occurrence of melanoma was largely limited to patients over 65 years of age. And since there is a large senior population in the County, and melanoma risk may increase with age, this makes sense. In addition, melanoma more often affects people with lighter skin, and the population in Marin also skews this way. Finally, as jealous San Franciscans may point out, there is a bit more sun in Marin County (particularly in the summer!) and therefore a wide variety of outdoor recreation. Ultraviolet radiation (UV) exposure in certain individuals and certain skin types leads to abnormal growth of the melanocytes – the cells that make our skin pigment – and causes melanoma. Hiking, golf, tennis, mountain biking, and certainly swimming or tanning, all come with large doses of sun.
So what do you do with this information? First, commit to using sun protection. This includes hats, sunglasses, avoiding long periods of direct exposure… and sunscreen. Please also take a closer look at the label on your sunscreen. In my practice, I recommend sunscreens that specifically protect from UVA and UVB, and I have a strong preference for products that contain a physical blocker and an SPF rating of at least 30. These sunscreens actually reflect the UV radiation away from the skin with tiny particles of zinc, titanium, or magnesium, rather than using chemicals to absorb the energy. Lastly, when you’re exercising or if you’re doing water sports, waterproof sunscreen is essential. Regardless of the type or brand, however, make sure to reapply regularly.
Below is a pre-op and immediate post-op photo of a melanoma resection in a young patient. To see more photos of facial reconstruction and other procedures, visit the gallery on our website and check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SFPlasticSurgery. Lastly, and most importantly, DON’T FORGET THE SUNSCREEN!