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Pathology in Daily Life: Summertime and Skin Cancer

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

As summertime approaches, it is important to remember that increased time spent in the sun can lead to harmful diseases like skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, having 5 or more sunburns doubles a person’s risk of developing melanoma, and 1 in 5 Americans develop skin cancer by age 70, with more than 2 people in the US dying of skin cancer per hour.


Skin cancer is categorized as either a nonmelanoma skin cancer or as melanoma. Nonmelanoma skin cancer is currently the most commonly occurring skin cancer in the US, though the exact incidence rate of nonmelanoma skin cancer is unknown since cancer registries do not require physicians to report diagnoses. Meanwhile, diagnoses of melanoma are reportable to cancer registries in the US. An estimated 99,780 people in the US will be diagnosed with melanoma. An estimated 7,650 of these individuals will die because of melanoma.


Even so, according to the National Cancer Institute, while the long-term incidence rate of melanoma in the US is increasing, the mortality rate of melanoma is decreasing due to increased public awareness via public health campaigns. Moreover, early detection of melanoma leads to a 99 percent 5-year survival rate. While there isn’t enough evidence to indicate that screening asymptomatic individuals can lead to a reduced mortality rate for patients with melanoma, over 90% of melanomas that present on the skin can be identified by sight without special tools. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology encourages people to perform regular skin self-exams, as around half of melanomas are found by the patient. Once identified by a doctor, the suspicious skin tissue is biopsied and sent to a pathology lab for examination. If diagnosed, the extent of a patient’s disease is determined by thickness of the melanoma, spreading of the melanoma to the lymph nodes, and signs of cancer elsewhere in the body.


The biopsies used to diagnose skin cancers such as melanoma are examined and processed in labs nationwide. Combined with public awareness campaigns helping people to identify signs of skin cancer and when to seek medical advice, the increased rate of melanoma among US citizens can be contributed in part to the increased number of skin tissue biopsies being examined per year. As a result, pathologists every day are directly responsible in saving the lives of skin cancer patients through diagnosis and continued examination of biopsies as their treatments progress. While proper sun safety tips such as wearing sunscreen are crucial for preventing skin cancer, the advancement and accessibility of diagnostic tools available to pathologists are paramount to public health as a whole, especially as the weather starts to heat up.


References:

1. Skin Cancer Foundation, 2022. Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics. [Online] Available at: https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts/ [Accessed 26 May 2022].

2. National Cancer Institute, 2022. Skin Cancer Screening (PDQ) - Health Professional Version. [Online] Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/hp/skin-screening-pdq [Accessed 26 May 2022]..

3. American Academy of Dermatology Association, 2022. Skin Cancer. [Online]

Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats-skin-cancer

[Accessed 26 May 2022].

4. Mayo Clinic, 2022. Melanoma. [Online]

Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/melanoma/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20374888

[Accessed 26 May 2022].

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