America’s Most Common Cancer


Pardon me while I drag my soap box out and get serious for a moment.

May is “Skin Cancer Awareness Month”.

It is America’s most common form of cancer.

It’s also the most-preventable.

I have been dealing with skin cancer for roughly 25 years.

Several years ago, I did a radio interview with local hospital officials regarding an upcoming free skin cancer screening clinic.

For some reason, I thought I’d go.

Turned out to be one of the wisest decisions I ever made.

The attending dermatologist had me remove my shirt.

He glanced at my freckled back and shoulders and said, “You had a bad sunburn sometime in your past.”

I was probably 8 or 9 years old and we had spent the day, in the blazing, sun swimming in my aunt’s above-ground swimming pool.

I was beet-red when I hit the sack that night.

I woke up the last night and the sheets were damp and I feared I had wet the bed.


Blisters on my shoulders from the sun the day before had burst while I slept.

It wasn’t the first time that this fair-skinned lad had been sunburned but it was the most serious.

You see, I grew up in the Coppertone era when that little dog tugged at the girl’s swimsuit to reveal a tan line.


What was that?

Spending weeks every summer on Lake Erie, splashing in the water and playing in the sand exposed me to more than my fair share of sunlight as I was growing up.

Today we know that 90% on non-melanoma skin cancers and 85% of melanoma cases are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

Doctors report if you had 5 or more “sunburns”, you double your risk for melanoma and if you have just one blistering sunburn, that melanoma risk doubles again.

I might have had 5 sunburns and a blistering burn several summers as a kid.

As a result of this visit to the skin-screening clinic, I’ve been a frequent patient to my dermatologist ever since.

Skin cancer happens when mutations occur in the DNA of skin cells, due to UV rays from the sun.

The skins cells morph into a mass of cancer cells.

More than 9,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year in the United States.

More people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year than all the other types of cancer…COMBINED.

Two people die every hour due to skin cancer.

It costs $8.1B to treat skin cancer every year in America.

Since 1994, diagnosis and treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers have risen 77%.

That’s about the time I started seeing a dermatologist.

The most common form is basal cell carcinoma.

Roughly 3.6M cases of basal cell cancer cancer are diagnosed every year.

These basal cells are the least-aggressive form of skin cancer and I would easily say I’ve more than three dozen removed in my life, mostly on my arms, back and shoulders.

Eighty percent of skin cancers are basal cells.

They are normally not very aggressive and slow-growing but left untreated, they can become a bigger problem.

I used to visit the dermatologist annually, until several years ago I had 4 melanomas removed in two years.

This form of skin cancer claims the lives of 5,400 people EVERY month.

However, in the past decade, new, invasive cases of melanoma skin cancer have increased 44% and it is expected that as many as 7,000 Americans could die as a result.

BUT, when melanomas are detected early and treated, the 5 year survival rate is 99%.

Scientists say 86% of melanomas are due to UV exposure from the sun’s rays.

Protecting your skin with SPF-15 or higher sunscreen daily can significantly reduce your risk of skin cancer.

SPF-30 or higher sunscreens can block up to 97% of those harmful sun rays.

UV rays easily penetrate a white t-shirt.

Wide-brim hats and long-sleeved, dark, tightly-woven clothing help.

There are even articles of clothing available that are specially treated and made to limit the effect of those UV rays.

It is best to avoid sun exposure from 10:00am until 4:00pm but if that’s not practical, apply the SPF and wear protective clothing.

Doctors recommend seeing a dermatologist annually.

The rule used to be you’d see your dermatologist every 3 months after detecting a melanoma until you go a year without one being found.

But, I see visit my skin doctor every three months, since I’ve had a number of melanomas removed.

They require a bit more aggressive treatment and I have the scars to prove it.

But I heard chicks dig scars so I’m in good standing.

Gotta tell you, though, my wife doesn’t “dig” them, especially since she has to change the bandages on those hard-to-reach spots on my body when they’re removed.

I might also tell you that tanning beds expose you to up to 15 times more UV radiation that the sun does at peak intensity.

Statistics say more people get skin cancer from indoor tanning than get lung cancer from smoking.

To be perfectly honest with you, I hate having to apply sun screen when I go outdoors.

Now, I’m not always the most-diligent but my experiences have made my family more “sun aware” so floppy hats, sunglasses and sun screen and quite fashionable with the Foster clan.

It is truly one of those cases where an ounce or prevention is worth a pound of cure.

You see, I have some “skin” in the game!

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