A recent study conducted by Dr. Hoda Anton-Culver, professor of epidemiology at UC Irvine’s College of Medicine, has unveiled that an individual’s risk for malignant melanoma is impacted by sex and age.
Anton-Culver and her colleagues presented the findings at the Society of Investigative Dermatology’s annual meeting held in Washington, D.C.
The team analyzed more than 40,000 patients from California cancer registries and more than 100,000 cases nationwide for its study and found that women’s chances of contracting melanoma are slightly higher than that of men until the age of 40. This rate of men and women appear to level off between the ages of 45 and 60. Meanwhile, the rate of men diagnosed with malignant melanoma increases significantly after age 40.
Overall, it was found that an individual’s chance of dying from the cancer increases with age, the presence of thicker tumors and the location of tumors: for example, tumors found on the torso as opposed to the neck, arm or legs.
Melanoma is considered to be the most serious form of skin cancer, developing from melanocytes or pigment-producing cells. It is most commonly found on the skin including nail beds, soles of feet and scalp. However, it could also develop in other parts of the body such as the eye or on mucosal surfaces. Although melanoma has been found to only account for approximately 4 percent of all skin cancers, more than 75 percent of the deaths resulting from skin cancer are cases of melanoma.
It has been previously known that risk factors for melanoma include a history of sunburns, extended exposure to ultraviolet light including both sunlight and artificial UV light, moles, fair complexion and a family history of skin cancer and/or melanoma. This is the first study to have been conducted that compares and contrasts specifically the level of risk for malignant melanoma with an individual’s sex and age.
Anton-Culver explained the reason for the study.
“Specific data on the disease by age, gender, as well as other characteristics would be essential for the prevention and control of malignant melanoma,” Anton-Culver said.
Emphasizing the importance that such findings are interpreted and translated to individuals at high risk of malignant melanoma, Anton-Culver hopes to improve awareness amongst health professionals, researchers and the general community. She and her team have already begun further investigations on this specific topic.
“[We are] studying the malignancy to look for causes of melanoma and to identify susceptibility genes as well as early markers for melanoma,” Anton-Culver said.
In the meantime, men and women alike could reduce the risk for malignant melanoma by protecting their skin from sun exposure, wearing protective clothing, using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater and examining oneself on a regular basis by noting any changes in color or shape of moles.
One method frequently employed to examine moles is the ABCDE rule. This means checking for asymmetry where one half of the mole is unlike the other half, irregular or poorly defined borders, variations of color when comparing one part to the other, moles with a diameter of 6 millimeters or larger, similar to the size of a pencil eraser. However, it is important to note that melanoma can be diagnosed with moles of a smaller size, and moles that look different from its kin in color, shape or size that are considered to be evolving.
With the number of melanoma cases on the rise, 4.6 percent per year for men and 3.2 percent per year for women, SPF is too often a neglected necessity.