Today is Melanoma Monday, observed nationwide on the first Monday in May, raising awareness about skin cancer, in the hopes of reducing the rise of melanoma, which can be fatal if not caught early. Skin cancers are on the rise for a long list of reasons, not the least of which is unprotected sunshine. Too many of us still "tough it out" and believe we are impervious to the ill effects of the sun, only to get one too many sunburns, followed by discolored legions on our faces and heads that can quickly metastasize into skin cancer, one of the most preventable forms of cancer.

The Skin Cancer Foundation reminds us:

  • 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
  • More than 2 people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.
  • Having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma.
  • When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent.
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No such thing as "safe sunshine"? Credit: Paul Douglas
No such thing as "safe sunshine"? Credit: Paul Douglas

The latest data is not reassuring: skin cancer diagnoses are increasing, and significantly more men than women died from melanoma in recent years. An estimated 7,990 people will die of melanoma in 2023, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Of those, 5,420 will be men and 2,570 will be women. Why more men than women? Yes, more men than women work (and play) outside, but men are much less likely to apply sunscreen.

A recent research paper has a stark message: Few adults regularly used sunscreen on the face. In fact only 18.1% of men applied sunscreen and 42.6% of women. Dawn M. Holman, a behavioral scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that more than 40% of men say they never use sunscreen when they're out in the sun. Some even attribute sunscreen use to "feminine behavior". Think about it for a second. Some men believe they can tough it out, no matter how much sunshine they receive in a given day. Funny, if it wasn't so tragically stupid.

Keep an eye on moles. Source: UK NHS
Keep an eye on moles. Source: UK NHS

According to the UK's National Health Service a new mole or a change in an existing mole may be signs of melanoma. Normal moles are usually round with smooth edges. Melanomas are often an uneven shape. Melanomas are often a mix of 2 or more colors. Normal moles usually do not change over time. A mole that changes size, shape or color may be a melanoma.

More people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, but the vast majority of melanomas are caused by the sun. The only antidote: applying sunscreen generously to all areas of your body exposed to the sun, but especially your head and face.

As the dark days of winter fade and warm fronts proliferate it's easy to get swept up into sunny-euphoria, but buyer beware. Just like second-hand cigarette smoke, there is no such thing as "safe sunshine".

A few minutes of SPF 50 can go a long way in making sure you can (safely) celebrate summer sunshine for many years to come.

The Stages of Skin Cancer Diagnoses and Removal

WARNING: These photos contain images of stitches post-surgery that some people might find disturbing. A 46-year-old male has Dysplatic (Atypical) Nevus with Severe Atpia mole removed.

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