Melanoma Skin Cancer Cases Growing in Canada; How to Prevent It

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Rates of melanoma skin cancer, one of the most preventable forms of cancer, have grown in the last two decades in Canada, according to the Canadian Cancer Society's annual statistics report.

About 82,600 Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with skin cancer in 2014, the cancer society said. This figure includes less lethal, non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal and squamous cell skin cancers.

Lethal cases of melanoma skin cancer to be identified this year are expected to number to around 6,500 cases. The cancer society estimates 1,050 Canadians will die from this form of cancer.

"Because we don't get a lot of sun in this country, skin cancer isn't top of mind for most Canadians," Prithwish De, an epidemiologist with the Canadian Cancer Society, said.

"There's over 80,000 skin cancer cases expected in Canada this year. And that's almost the same number of cases of the top four cancers combined—lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancer."

Apart from skin cancers, the leading cancers among Canadian women are breast, lung and colorectal cancers. Among Canadian men, it is prostate, colorectal and lung cancers. Lung cancer, the leading cancer killer among Canadians, is expected to kill 36,600 women and 40,000 men in 2014 alone.

The cancer society found much work still has to be done to make Canadians adopt safe sun behaviours based on an analysis that compared data from two large surveys conducted 10 years apart—in 1996 and 2006. While more Canadians are now spending time outdoors, it was found less people were taking precautions such as applying sunscreen, sporting hats, seeking shade or wearing long-sleeved clothing.

"We see more people spending time in the sun. But we don't see more people taking precautions," Loraine Marrett, senior scientist for prevention and cancer control at Cancer Care Ontario, said.

De is most concerned for the younger Canadians under the age of 30.

"The ages of 16 and 24... tend to spend the most time out in the sun without protecting themselves very much and also that's the same age group that tends to use indoor tanning the most," De revealed.

A single, blistering sunburn before 20 years old can double a person's chance of developing melanoma.

People who also started using indoor tanning beds before 65 years old are also at higher risk.

A highly preventable form of cancer, melanoma may be avoided by following these strategies:

  • Plan outdoor activities before 11 am and after 4 pm when the sun is not at its strongest or at times of the day when the UV Index is 3 or less.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Wear sunglasses and lip balm.
  • Seek shade.
  • Don't use indoor tanning beds.

Sarah Merrill told Vancouver Sun how grateful she was from being spared from such a fate.

"There's so much pressure to attain this image of beauty but we have to learn to embrace our natural skin tone," the 23-year-old said.

"We can use bronzers and get spray tans instead. The most important thing to know is that skin cancer is preventable. We just have to do things like use sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses," Merrill added.

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