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McCain Candidacy Raises Melanoma Profile

July 30, 2008

By Rick Ruggles, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

Jul. 30–The word “melanoma” may enter Americans’ vocabulary more frequently over the next three months.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has survived three bouts of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, that included four lesions.

McCain had a patch of skin removed Monday from his right cheek. A biopsy showed no evidence of skin cancer, doctors said Tuesday.

The Arizona senator, who suffered severe sun damage from his 5 1/2 years in Vietnamese prison camps, gets a skin cancer check every few months.

Melanoma cases in Nebraska, Iowa and nationwide are increasing, according to the American Cancer Society. Local experts attribute the increase primarily to an aging population and to the increased use of tanning salons.

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to surviving melanoma, the experts said. The society estimated that 8,420 Americans will die this year from melanoma.

Farmers and boaters, construction workers and tennis players, utility workers and golfers generally place themselves at greater risk.

“The list goes on and on,” said Dr. James M. Shehan, assistant professor of dermatology at the Creighton University School of Medicine. “It’s important to use some common sense.”

Common sense includes minimizing exposure to the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., applying plenty of sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of 30 to 45, reapplying sunscreen every couple of hours and wearing a broad-brimmed hat, Shehan said.

Both Shehan and Marcia Pennington, a physician assistant at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said they think tanning beds are a factor in the rising number of melanomas.

“We’re seeing 20-year-olds come in with melanoma, which was very rare until recently,” said Pennington.

The American Cancer Society also has warned of the risk of getting cancer from tanning, both in salons and outdoors. The society estimates:

–62,480 new cases will be diagnosed this year nationwide, up about 22 percent from 2001.

–Nebraska will have about 380 new cases, up from 300 in 2001.

–Iowa will record 790, up from 500 in 2001.

Besides absorbing ultraviolet rays through work, recreation and tanning, risk factors include having lots of moles, a fair complexion or a family history of melanoma.

Those at risk should see their doctor or dermatologist yearly. If a mole becomes oddly shaped, has a jagged border, becomes multicolored, grows or becomes painful, itchy or bleeding, a doctor should see it immediately.

Melanomas diagnosed while they are still small and confined to the top layer of skin can be treated by surgery with a high degree of success. Those that are bigger and deeper are more problematic and run the risk of spreading, experts say.

World-Herald librarian Jeanne Hauser contributed to this report.

–Contact the writer: 444-1123, rick.ruggles@owh.com

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Copyright (c) 2008, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

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