Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers in the Millions and Rising

Numbers have grown steadily since the 1990s; baby boomer epidemic predicted

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Catching melanoma early is critical for saving lives and controlling costs, Chen said. About 40 percent of the annual cost for melanoma goes to treating stage 4 (advanced) cancers, even though they account for only 3 percent of melanomas.

"It's a huge difference in the cost of taking care of a stage 1 versus a stage 4 patient," Chen said. "It makes a lot of sense to invest in early detection and prevention measures such that the economic burden is not so high."

In an accompanying editorial, researchers from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, called for a "revised health strategy" that treats skin cancer as a chronic disease requiring not just a one-time treatment, but ongoing monitoring of patients, prevention and education.

To lessen your chances of getting skin cancer, dermatologists recommend applying broad-spectrum sunscreen liberally and often; wearing hats and other protective clothing when out in the sun; avoiding sun exposure when the sun's rays are the strongest -- between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. -- and never using tanning beds.

It's especially important to take these steps with children and teens (to the extent they will listen), Rogers said. Skin cancer is turning up in younger and younger patients. In the past week or so, he removed non-melanoma cancer off the cheek of a 17-year-old boy and removed a melanoma from an 18-year-old girl.

And even if you have memories of basting yourself with baby oil, or you're a retiree and loathe to miss your weekly tee time, it's never too late to start decreasing your exposure.

"Think of sun exposure like putting money in a bank that you can't withdraw," Rogers said. "You can't get rid of the damage you have, but continued sun exposure accelerates the rate at which you will develop new skin cancers. Protecting your skin from the sun will help decrease the rate."

More information

The Skin Cancer Foundation has more on skin cancer.

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