Omaha’s Midwest Dermatology Clinic is seeing more melanoma cases among sun-worshiping millennials who have ignored the warnings in favor of a deep, dark tan.
“In our practice, we now routinely diagnose non-melanoma skin cancers in patients younger than 40,” said Dr. Melissa Diamantis Darling, a board-certified dermatologist with the clinic. “While deadly melanoma cancer is not as common as other types of skin cancer, we unfortunately are finding that diagnosis in an alarming number of younger adults.”
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, malignant melanoma is the second most common cancer for adults ages 25 to 29, and millennial women are at greatest risk.
Why? Darling points to commercial tanning beds — classified in 2009 by the World Health Organization as “carcinogenic to humans" — and an American Academy of Dermatology report that more than 70 percent of tanning salon patrons are girls and young women.
Some studies have blamed social media, narcissism and pressure to look good for playing a part in millennials’ tanning obsession. Darling said it often takes years for sun damage and skin cancer to develop.
“Millennials are now seeing the severe damage done to their skin,” Darling said.
For that reason, all millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996), as well as sun-worshipers and tanning bed users in other age groups, are being urged by Midwest Dermatology Clinic to have annual skin cancer checks by a board-certified dermatologist.
Basal cell carcinomas, which are non-melanoma cancers that grow on the outer layer of the skin, are most commonly diagnosed. They usually strike people who get sunburns and who spend a lot of time in the sun without protecting their scalp, face, neck, arms and legs. The disease rarely spreads but can be disfiguring if left untreated.
Squamous cell carcinoma is a non-melanoma skin cancer that grows in the upper layer of the skin and results from frequent sun exposure. Unlike basal cell carcinoma, this cancer can spread, be aggressive, and can become deadly in some cases. Squamous cell carcinoma is typically seen on the face, ears, neck and scalp, followed by the arms and legs.
Melanomas, commonly caused by intense ultraviolet exposure such as a history of bad sunburns, are one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer. They are less common than other skin cancers — yet are malignant and often spread to other parts of the body.
Risk factors for melanoma include an increased number of moles, fair complexion, light hair and eye color, and a family history of melanoma.
Melanomas are surgically removed and can require oncology care in the form of chemotherapy, especially if the cancer cells have spread. These tumors originate in the basal layer of the epidermis, and most are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. They can be found anywhere on the body and kill an estimated 10,130 people in the U.S. every year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. About half of melanomas start out as moles.
Early skin cancer detection is key to survival because many melanomas are aggressive in how they can attack the rest of the body. The good news, Darling said, is that dermatologists are doing a better job of encouraging routine skin exams, and there have been advances in diagnostic procedures.
"We want to raise awareness in young adults and in parents of soon-to-be young adults regarding the rapid rise in melanoma in that age group,” Darling said. “With the incidence of diagnosis in millennial females particularly on the rise, sun protection for young Caucasian women is especially important."
To have a mole or skin lesion checked by a board-certified dermatologist, call 402-552-2555 or click here to book an appointment online. The clinic has six locations in Omaha, Bellevue, Papillion and Norfolk.