Melanoma – Dying for the Sun


Excellent video about prevention and treatment of melanoma.

 “Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds a dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

-Susan Sontag


Melanoma land is a place you don’t want to visit. It is the fast lane to cancer at a young age when you have better things to do, like live. The diagnosis smacks you on the side of the head. You walk into the doctor’s office a healthy person and you leave as a cancer patient. Just like that.

How did it happen? If you are red headed, blonde, blue eyed, have lots of moles or freckles, have spent hours in the sun or in tanning booths, you get fast tracked. Some are unlucky and have melanoma in their family. In melanoma risk, genes do matter.

Here is the good news. Doctors are much better at diagnosing melanoma. Tools like dermoscopy enable the doctor to see a mole’s architecture better than the naked eye. Although the incidence of melanoma has risen, 70% of melanomas are now diagnosed at a treatable stage. When this occurs, removal can be a cure. The concerning melanoma is the thicker one. If a melanoma is more than 4 millimeter’s thick when first seen, only 40% of patients will make it to five year survival.

How do you prevent melanoma? Most people know this information, but many ignore it some or much of the time.  For a summary of preventative measures, visit this site:

I am going to assume that you are already at risk and tell you what to look for. If you are a white female, melanoma often appears on the lower legs or the back. I estimate 70% of the melanomas I see on women are on the lower legs including the feet. For white males, it’s the back and the trunk. (I do see facial melanoma but it is more common in older people). An individual with 100 common moles or five abnormal (but noncancerous) moles is at a seven fold increased risk for melanoma.

Have a regular skin checkup by your doctor, especially if you have a lot of moles or freckles. New moles, especially at 50 years of age, could be a concern. Mention to your doctor any moles on your soles, between the toes or in the nail beds. Be aware of the ABCDE of melanoma. If this term is new to you, look at one of the following websites to learn about the ABCDE’s of melanoma diagnosis, and remember, the key to survival is early diagnosis.

For more info on the topic of prevention and early diagnosis go to:

Melanoma- The Social Perspective


“The idea of preventative medicine is faintly un-American. It means, first, recognizing that the enemy is us.”

– Chicago Tribune, 1975.

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

– Edward Abbey

No one should ever die of skin cancer. You can see it and touch it. It is not lurking deep in the dark moist recesses of your body waiting to declare itself as your silent angel of death. The exception, of course, is melanoma and melanoma is increasing at a rate faster than any other cancer. In the last 60 years melanoma has increased 10 fold in countries such as Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The USA is not exempt from this statistic, nor is Canada. One in 100 Canadians will get a melanoma.

I grew up in the generation of the burn. Sunscreen was unknown, and we knew that a good burn led to a tan anyway. As a kid in Australia, my sisters would compete to see who could peel the blistered skin from my back in one complete layer. At the beach, my mother told me to stay in the water so I would not get a burn. As teenagers in Vancouver B.C., we drove to Mt Baker in Washington State to dig a snow pit, slather on baby oil and spend the day seeing how much we could cook our bodies. In spring, it was the best way to start your tan early. You can see where this is going. The next generation has more information, but they are just as foolish. The risk of melanoma increases 75% when sun beds are used before 30 years of age and the number of young people I see coming into my medical office with a permanent tan has increased dramatically. My office staff (who help me cut out skin cancer all day) are tanned all year round because they look better. In society, the denial and disconnect between cause and effect is astounding.

I live in Canada, not exactly the tropics. Despite this, I diagnose a large number of melanomas every year. Many are in the over 50-age group, but not all. The youngest patient I have seen in my career was 15 years old. I have looked after patients who have died of melanoma. I have friends who have died of melanoma, in some cases as late as 20 years after the original diagnosis. Bob Marley and Burgess Meredith (The Penguin from Batman) succumbed to melanoma. Celebrities such as Anderson Cooper, Cybil Shepherd, Ewan McGregor and even John McCain have survived melanoma.

So what gives? Melanoma comes from intense UV exposure. UV radiation is a carcinogen. All of the UV radiation from childhood is saved in your UV bank account and accrues interest. Each year, in daily life, you make additional deposits. Driving your car (professional truck drivers have more skin cancer on their left face), shopping, sitting in the back yard, going on holiday to lower latitudes or higher altitudes, adds to the principle deposit. Depending on how diligently you invest over a lifetime the carcinogenic effect accumulates and starts to manifest as skin cancer, usually in the 40’s to 60’s. Add to the UV exposure the physical characteristics of being white skinned, red or blonde haired, blue eyed, freckled, having had a previous skin cancer or a large number of moles, a family history of melanoma or a higher income and you are set to visit melanoma land.

Melanoma is a social issue. Before 1920 purposeful tanning did not occur. The working classes were tanned because they had to labor. For them there was no status involved, only poverty and hard work. Now, older people tan because they have the disposable income to afford leisure in warm places. Tanning signals to others that one has free time and is less bound to the daily grind of employment. Youth tans because current fashion shows more skin, and tanned skin is synonymous with sex.  Women tan because unsightly cellulite, veins and imperfections are said to appear less obvious. Men tan because they feel they look more “cut” or muscular. Tanning is a social signal, plain and simple, and because it is I predict melanoma incidence will continue to rise.

” What is not brought to us as consciousness comes to us as fate

-Karl Jung