May 24, 2016

Melanoma surge in New Jersey likely tied to beach exposure

Incidence of deadly cancer on the rise, says specialist at Rutgers Cancer Institute

With Memorial Day weekend right around the corner and an army of beachgoers planning their first visit to the Jersey Shore this season, May's designation as Skin Cancer Awareness Month offers an important reminder to heed the risks of sun exposure.

The incidence of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, is on the rise in New Jersey. In 2012, the most recent year with available data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) placed the Garden State in the third of four ascending intervals for rates of melanoma occurrence in the United States. Out of every 100,000 people in New Jersey, there were between 21.2 and 23.6 cases of individuals who developed or died of melanoma of the skin each year.

Dr. Howard Kaufman, associate director of clinical science and chief surgical officer at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, recently told Woodbridge Patch that the state's rising rate of melanoma can be attributed to lengthy sun exposure and lack of adequate safeguards at the Jersey Shore.

"You can't control your genetics, but you can control how much time you spend in the sun," says Dr. Kaufman. "Go out in the early morning or late afternoon. Don't go out in the middle of the day, when UV rays are at their strongest."

Though Kaufman acknowledges the benefits of Vitamin D from the sun, he says the key is to take a balanced approach and make sure to follow several basic recommendations to avoid intense UV rays. The following guidelines are provided by the Melanoma Research Alliance:

Wear Sunscreen. Make sunscreen a daily habit. UV radiation can still damage skin even in the winter and on cloudy days. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (protects against UVA and UVB rays) with SPF of at least 30.

Wear Protective Clothing. Protect your body with sun-protective clothing, hat, and sunglasses.

Avoid Peak Rays. Seek shade during the midday sun, when the sun’s rays are most intense.

Don’t Use Tanning Beds. Indoor tanning has been shown to increase the risk of melanoma by up to 75 percent. Melanoma is the number one new cancer diagnosed in young adults (ages 25-29), and scientists attribute this trend to the use of tanning beds among this age group, particularly young women.

Protect Children. Just one bad sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles your child’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.

With respect to tanning beds, Kaufman lamented the fact that people willingly do what clinical researchers simulate in order to induce melanoma in lab mice.

"One of the worst things you can do is go to a tanning salon," Kaufman said. "When we want to encourage melanoma growth in lab mice, we put them under ultraviolet light, the same thing used in a tanning bed. Why would you purposefully do that to yourself?"

 A 2013 Mayo Clinic study on the use of tanning beds found that the associated skin cancer risk is especially worrisome among young women. While men and women ages 40 to 60 years old were the fastest-growing segment of skin cancer patients in the United States, researchers found that indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 to 79 percent. Among women between 18 and 29 years old, 76 percent of cases were linked to tanning beds.

Kaufman, who authored "The Melanoma Book: A Complete Guide to Prevention and Treatment," says new immunotherapy treatments at Rutgers Cancer Institute — including the recently FDA-approved drug Imlygic — are creating new hope for patients diagnosed with melanoma.

"It's remarkable," he said. "We are even seeing cures today in patients with very advanced melanoma. I have a few patients who have been here now for 10 to 15 years longer than I expected."