Melanoma on the rise, taken by surprise

By Katie Engell
September 3, 2009

Although a popular summer luxury includes hours of baking in the sun, there are severe and deadly side effects to consider, which can harm parts of the body that are repeatedly exposed to the sun. There are approximately 11,590 deaths due to skin cancer each year.

Jim Johnson, the Philadelphia Eagles Defensive Coordinator, unexpectedly died due to a severe case of skin cancer known as melanoma, the most fatal form of skin.

Melanoma is one of the most aggressive cancers to develop and accounts for 75 percent of all deaths associated with skin cancer. He succumbed to his battle against skin cancer at the age of 68. His death raised the question of how best to protect oneself from skin cancer.

His death shocked Eagles fans who have watched Johnson guide the team towards a Super Bowl appearance.

But his death should not come as a surprise. According to the National Cancer Institute, the majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white males over the age of 50. Over half of these cases can be attributed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

“Although Jim Johnson was arguably the best defensive coach of all time, skin cancer was one battle he could not defend,” Sam Jeff, sophomore business administration major, said.

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States. While the sun leaves skin bronzed and beautiful, the powerful UV rays are ultimately damaging the skin. Over time, even if the skin does not burn, countless hours in the sun can increase someone’s chance of developing skin cancer.

The most common forms of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These two forms of skin cancer, along with melanoma, make up the three skin cancers that afflict nearly one million Americans each year.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are rarely fatal compared to melanoma but they can cause severe damage to the skin, leading to disfigurement and the need for surgery.

The key to conquering skin cancer is that it is usually curable if detected during the early stages. Risk factors include having moles or freckles, which appear after long hours in the sun. A normal mole is solid brown, dark brown or flesh colored and its edges are well-defined.

Some essential signs of skin cancer to keep in mind include any changes in a previously developed mole or the appearance of a new mole. A fast-appearing mole, a sore that won’t heal or a mole that itches are also signs of the development of skin cancer.

Preventing skin cancer is simple and viable if it is practiced a young age and continued throughout a person’s life. The ideal thing to remember is to use sunscreen when exposed to the sun. This is especially true those who have fair skin or those whose skin tends to burn easily.

“Skin cancer seems to be the biggest concern related to tanning, but at the same time it’s fashionable to be tan. This leaves people our age to make a decision on what is more important to them,” Kirsten Wizeman, junior special education major, said.

More factors to consider in preventing skin cancer are staying out of the sun during the prime and hottest hours of the day, generally between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. It’s also important to wear protective items such as hats or sunglasses when in the direct sun for a prolonged period of time. The use of sunlamps or tanning booths are also discouraged because they can increase a person’s risk of developing skin cancer by 75 percent.

“Personally I think if a girl has to try that hard to be beautiful then she’s not very attractive overall. Jim Johnson probably developed skin cancer from working, not because of unnecessary exposure like tanning. He probably developed cancer when he was younger and never noticed it. But people today go out and intentionally put themselves at risk for a temporary and false beauty is ridiculous,” John Kidd, sophomore criminal justice major, said.

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Katie Engell

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