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Skin cancer affecting younger people, dermatologists say

GREENVILLE, N.C.   (May 12, 2003)   —   Dermatologists at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University are seeing an alrming trend: Skin cancer patients are getting younger.

Dr. Charles Phillips, associate professor of internal medicine at ECU, and his partner Dr. Bill Burke, professor of internal medicine and division chief of dermatology, are seeing more young adults with skin cancer in their ECU dermatology clinic.

"I've seen young pregnant women in their mid-20s with skin cancers that had to be removed," Phillips said. "If 25-year-olds are coming in with skin cancers now, what's it going to be like when they are 60?"

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Malignant melanoma, the most serious skin cancer, is increasing most rapidly and causes the most deaths because it can spread rapidly to other organs such as the lungs and liver.

The other two types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are much more common, making up 96 percent of new skin cancer cases. If detected early, more than 95 percent of these new cancers can be cured.

"The most significant sun damage you receive is before age 15. We really encourage parents to coat their children in sunscreen with at least an SFP of 15, long-sleeved clothing when possible, broad-brimmed hats and use available shade," Phillips said. "Also parents should think of the time of day when children will be outside. Gearing activities before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. can be helpful."

Phillips said he encourages all of his patients to "Slip! Slap! Slop!" the ACS's skin cancer awareness campaign slogan. Slip on a shirt. Slop on the sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher on exposed skin at least 15 minutes before going outdoors. Slap on a hat that shades the face, neck and ears.

"With patients over age 15, we encourage them to protect their skin," he said. "You still seem to carry with you the risk of how much sun you got when you were young."

Phillips also tries to educate patients that getting a "base tan" by visiting a tanning salon isn't safe, either. "Part of the issue is that people want to lay down a base and then go out and get more sun exposure. It may look good cosmetically, but it's not forming the protection they may think. Self-tanning lotions may produce desired results, but don't offer any sun protection. Those people still need to use sun screen," he said.

If a person is unsure if a bump or mole on his or her skin is cancerous, Phillips suggested having it checked by a dermatologist to be sure.

A change in a mole or bump's appearance is a sign that you should see a physician. The "ABCD rule" can help people remember the important signs of melanoma and other skin cancers:

--Asymmetry: One-half of a mole does not match the other.
--Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
--Color: The color is not the same all over but may have differing shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of red, white or blue.
--Diameter: The area is larger than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing larger.

Phillips and other dermatologists are trying to add an "E" for evolution. If your mole is changing and looking different to you, then it needs to be checked.

Phillips, a dermatologist for 10 years, suggested that people who have a bump or mole they are concerned about schedule an appointment with a physician. "The earlier skin cancers are caught, the better," he said.


Contact: Jeannine Manning Hutson | 252-744-2481