Incidents of Younger Melanoma Patients on the Rise

Dr. Trevan Fischer, Assistant Program Director of the Complex General Surgical Oncology fellowship, performs between one to two hundred melanoma surgeries each year.  In his work, incidents of melanoma are increasing faster than other cancers.1  Though cancer survival is also increasing due to improved treatments and vaccines, patients are presenting with melanoma at a much younger age than in previous generations.  This may present more of the population having to cope with the disease for a longer portion of their lives, which could reveal new risks that were traditionally less of a factor.   

light skin eyes freckles sun spots most at risk for melanoma
Certain characteristics present with higher risk of skin cancer including hair and eye color.
Though there are many reasons that can be attributed to increased cancer risk, they can be evaluated based on the amount of UV exposure one receives regularly and the duration of exposures while in their youth. For example, some outdoor activities and occupations require greater time spent in the sun, while more people at greater risk, such as those with fair skin, light eyes, blond or red hair, and freckles, may not be protecting themselves from the sun as much as they should. 

Most problematic is the use of tanning beds, according to Dr. Fischer.  To put it into perspective, 20 minutes in a tanning bed, which is full-body exposure to many commonly protected areas of the skin, is equivalent to 4 hours in the sun.  It is basically cellular skin damage on steroids because tanning sessions are offered based on the number of repeat visits.

Dr. Trevan Fischer explains what to look for

Dr. Fischer offers helpful information to detect and prevent melanoma.


Melanoma is a deadly form of cancer that is responsible for most of the skin cancer-related deaths in the US., which is 10% of the 100,000 estimated new cases each year.  So based on where you live, what you do, and how well you protect your skin according to your risk level, it’s a suitable time to reacquaint yourself with the ABCDEs of melanoma before the more intense summer months arrive.

Look for an Ugly Duckling.

Trevan Fischer, MD

ABCDEs of Melanoma

Dr. Fischer explains the ABCDEs of melanoma perfectly, identifying the key attributes of the kind of suspicious lesion he refers to as an ugly duckling—amole that looks nothing like your other moles because of its wide-ranging irregularities. 

ABCDE - melanoma self assessment guide
ABCDE – A melanoma self assessment method – Saint John’s Cancer Institute

What are the ADBDEs of Melanoma?

  1. Asymmetry: Does one side of a mole match the other side?
  2. Border: Is the outline of the mole ragged and irregular along the edges?
  3. Color: Are there distinct colors or shades within the same mole?
  4. Diameter: Is it larger than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser)
  5. Evolvolution: Are there any changes in the color, size, or look of the mole over time?

If we use these in our clinical practice to find out which moles should be biopsied, we can reduce the risk of melanoma having spread by diagnosing it earlier.

Trevan Fischer, MD

What are some straightforward ways to protect yourself from developing melanoma?

  1. Get yearly skin exams.  It is quick and easy.  Your dermatologist will be able to compare photos of suspicious moles year to year. 
  2. Avoid exposure that can lead to sunburn. Avoid tanning beds altogether.
  3. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen every two hours when you are in the sun and reapply every half hour if you are working out or perspiring.
  4. Apply sunscreen as part of your daily routine. Developing a routine is a safe way to build upon lifelong habits.
  5. Wear sun-protective clothing. Rash guards have become a popular option and are great for kids.
  6. Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest.

Developing protective habits

sun-protective clothing - cancer prevention
Wearing UV-protective clothing is one of the best ways to safely spend more time in the sun.
A productive sunscreen (e.g. a minimum of 30SPF) is helpful only if it is reapplied throughout the long summer days. In addition, covering your skin with UV protective clothing, seeking shade, or avoiding the sun altogether are the best solutions overall. Beyond the pain that comes with an uncomfortable and unforgiving sunburn, protecting your skin from the harsh summer sun is important to avoid more dangerous and long-lasting consequences. Protecting your skin should be a lifelong effort. Therefore, damage to the skin due to sun exposure and cancer risk are both cumulative—the total amount of UV exposure over many years.

Additional Information:

Sources: (2003). Key Statistics for Melanoma Skin Cancer.

About the Authors

David Austin,