En español l Even superheroes aren't immune to skin cancer. Popular X-Men actor Hugh Jackman made headlines in May when he posted a photo on Instagram showing a bandage on the right side of his nose. To make sure everyone got the message, he wrote: "Another Basal Cell Carcinoma ... PLEASE! PLEASE! WEAR SUNSCREEN!"
It was the second bout of skin cancer for The Wolverine star, whose big-screen healing powers apparently weren't enough to prevent the disease. And Jackman is not alone: About 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, making it the most common form of cancer in the nation.
Despite all of the information about skin cancer, including the dangers of soaking up the sun and using tanning beds, diagnoses are on the rise. A 2014 study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that the incidence of skin cancer increased almost eightfold between 1970 and 2009 among adults ages 40 to 60.
To reduce your risk, here are nine things you need to know about skin cancer.
1. Your past could catch up with you
Ladies, you may be good about putting on sunscreen now, but if you had at least five blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20, you have an 80 percent higher risk of developing the most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, in your 40s to 60s. Researchers at Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital analyzed data on nearly 109,000 nurses, all Caucasian, in 14 states who were followed for 20 years. The study, published in May, found that those who were badly sunburned in early adulthood had a 68 percent higher risk for slow-growing skin cancers — such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. So if you had a history of sunburns back in the day, you need to be even more scrupulous about using sunscreen and checking for suspicious growths now.
2. More men are getting melanoma
Up to 50 percent of Americans over age 65 will be diagnosed with at least one form of skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, and men have seen their melanoma rate increase the most of any age group over the past four decades. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that the deaths of older men from melanoma more than tripled.
Medical oncologist Patrick Ott of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, believes that the cumulative impacts of sun exposure combined with low sunscreen use have contributed to the increased rates of melanoma in older adults. "It takes years, sometimes decades, for cancer to develop," Ott explains. While rates in older adults are on the rise, it's not too late to reduce the risks. He advocates limiting sun exposure, slathering on sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) 30 and wearing protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats.
3. People of color are susceptible to one particularly deadly form of skin cancer
It's the skin cancer that killed famed reggae singer Bob Marley, and it's not related to sun exposure. Called acral lentiginous melanoma, or ALM, it is the most common melanoma diagnosis among African Americans, Asians and Hispanics, and typically strikes people in their 60s. ALM is often mistaken for a bruise, wart or nail fungus — in fact, Marley initially thought he just had a bruised toenail. It often appears in areas where it can go undetected, such as the soles of the feet, between fingers or under toenails and fingernails. "If you have dark pigmented skin, it can look like a normal variant," explains Maral Skelsey, director of dermatologic surgery at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
While awareness is key, Skelsey notes, "there is nothing you can do to reduce your risk [of ALM]." She recommends making an appointment with your dermatologist for regular skin checks and getting any new spots or changes to existing pigment checked immediately.