Some Individuals Nonetheless Misjudge their Melanoma Danger
Almost a quarter of people in Queensland, Australia underestimate their risk of melanoma, says a new study by the Australian research institute QIMR Berghofer. And those who may be at greatest risk are also worst at predicting the likelihood of developing fatal skin cancers.
The researchers surveyed nearly 42,000 Queenslanders with a self-assessment test and then used the institute’s risk prediction tool to reveal the underestimation. The results were published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma are three types of skin cancer. Of the three, melanoma is the rarest but more dangerous. Melanoma usually starts in cells called melanocytes. If it’s not caught early, it can quickly spread to other organs.
The biggest risk factor for developing melanoma is excessive exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds. Ultraviolet light can damage the DNA of skin cells. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light can lead to a higher risk of mutations in skin cells over time.
The team compared the survey results of the participants with a validated tool used to predict melanoma risk. The tool calculated a person’s risk of developing melanoma based on certain parameters including age, gender, ethnicity, family history of melanoma, and sunscreen use.
The researchers found that 70% of the participants had a good idea of their risk. Over 28,500 people correctly identified their risk category or were one category removed. Still, almost 25% had no idea about their risk. Only 10% of the sample overestimated their melanoma risk.
The group who misjudged their risk included people at the highest risk of melanoma, especially men over 65 with light skin of European descent, sun-sensitive skin with many birthmarks. It was more likely that they had a college education and received skin cancer treatments. The researchers suggested better counseling to help raise awareness of the group.
Why it is important to know the risk
Underestimating the likelihood of melanoma can be fatal. In 1992, the melanoma rate per 100,000 people was 14.1%. Until 2017, the rate was 22.6%. The death rate has decreased from 2.7% to 2.3%. In 2017, an estimated 1.25 million people in the United States were living with melanoma.
Prevention is the best measure to avoid melanoma. A contribution to the Melanoma Research Alliance highlighted ways to reduce the risk of melanoma:
- Never intentionally expose your skin to the sun. If you can’t avoid this, use a sunscreen with an SPF.
- Discover. Long sleeves, hats, and sunglasses can protect exposed body parts such as arms and eyes.
- Avoid the rush hours of the sun. The sun’s rays are most intense around noon.
- Do not use solariums. These devices are associated with a 75% increased risk of melanoma.
- Protect your children. Children are especially vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation. If they’ve had even severe sunburn, their risk of cancer may increase as they get older.
- Watch out for cloudy days. The sun’s rays are not limited to clear skies. The radiation can reach the ground even in colder months or cloudy days.
Take them home
Melanomas can be detected and treated early on. If you would like to have your skin examined, see your primary care doctor or dermatologist. Healthcare professionals can provide safety tips, best practices, and information about melanoma and possible treatments.