In the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
Even with new regulations on tanning beds and sunscreen labeling, the disease continues to surge.
Beth Crisafi, of California, was 26-years-old when she was diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
“It did sort of surprise me, because here I am, a 26-year-old who thinks she's healthy and invincible, and they're telling me I have melanoma,” Crisafi told FoxNews.com.
Dr. Anne Chapas, a dermatologist at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, said there are a couple of theories as to why skin cancer rates continue to increase.
“We…have a more mobile society – cheap flight to islands…more outdoor and leisure activities,” Chapas told FoxNews.com. “Even in the winter people are getting tan.”
Several factors can increase a person’s risk of melanoma including sun exposure, sunburns, the number of moles on a person’s skin and family history.
With fair skin and light hair, Crisafi was always aware of her skin’s tendency to burn.
“I always remember my mom and dad lathering me up with sunscreen,” Crisafi said. “But being a kid who loves the water, I was constantly in and out of the pool and you’re not thinking to reapply-- so I had a couple of really bad sunburns as a kid.”
A recent study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, suggests that experiencing five or more sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 could increase melanoma risk by 80 percent.
According to the American Cancer society, sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers.
Ever since the first sunscreen was invented in the 1930’s, the thick and smelly topical has always been the first line of defense against harmful UV rays. But new research out of Manchester University and London’s Institute of Cancer Research, reveals that sunscreen does not offer complete protection from the harmful effects of UV light.
“Sunscreen is an important part of a comprehensive skin care program, but it’s not the only step,” Chapas said, who is also a member of the American Academy of Dermatology. “It’s important to protect yourself in other ways, such as using sun protective clothing, and it’s also good to limit the amount of sun activities you do during peak times, which in the Northeast tends to be between 11 am – 3 pm.”
Crisafi was prompted to get a skin check after she noticed a mole on her arm had changed color. Her doctors quickly performed an in-office procedure and removed the cancerous mole. Crisafi was able to breathe a sigh of relief—but her battle with the disease was far from over.
“A few months later, I noticed another mole that came out of nowhere and it was close to where the other melanoma mole was. It was a very dark black dot and I knew it didn’t look good,” Crisafi said.
Her intuition proved valid when doctors told her she would need to come to the hospital for a more invasive surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from the muscle it had developed in.
Skin cancers found early are almost always curable. Chapas said you can catch skin cancer early with self-examinations.
“I recommend that everyone takes a look at their own skin once a month, and if they see anything of concern they should definitely talk to a doctor about it,” Chapas said.
Over time physicians developed a strategy called the ABCDE’s to help people remember the warning signs of melanoma.
A- Asymmetry; one side looking different than the other
B- Border changes; an irregular and uneven border
C- Color changes; having a variety of different colors
D- Diameter; bigger than a pencil eraser
E- Evolving; any change in size, shape, color, elevation
Today, Crisafi is skin cancer free and takes a new approach to protecting herself from skin cancer risks.
“Reapplying sunscreen a lot more often is my biggest change, and just being a lot more mindful,” Crisafi said. “I’m not going to stop living, or not go swimming anymore, but now when I'm at the beach, I tan by sitting under the umbrella and applying self-tanner at night.”
For more information on skin cancer prevention visit www.aad.org.