Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Older Warriors

It seems the number one topic during this Melanoma Awareness Month is the campaign to either ban tanning beds or to convince teenagers that it’s a bad idea.  More and more statistics show that people are getting melanoma at a younger age…and perhaps due to the increased use of tanning beds.  I’ve mentioned before that melanoma is the most common cancer for young adults ages 25 to 29.  It’s a valid point and one worth emphasizing to help make younger people aware of the dangers.
But guess what?  The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men over the age of 50.  My brother died of melanoma at the age of 55.  A few readers of my blog are men in their late 40’s or 50’s.  There has been nearly a 9 percent increase in melanoma incidence in older white men (over 65) since 2003.  This is the highest increase of any gender or group.  The reason?  One thought is that men over the age of 40 have the highest annual exposure to UV.  Yet, I’m sure we’re all not lining up at the tanning booths.
No, we men tend to be outside a lot.  I just now spent my day off mowing the lawn and weeding the flower beds (or is that weeding the weed beds?)  Every weekend, neighborhood men can be seen washing cars, jogging, mowing the lawn, going to softball games, hitting the golf course and participating in any number of outdoor activities.  This is not to say that women do not, but I think it’s true that men spend a lot of time outdoors.  And I bet if you took a survey, the majority would respond that they’ve not applied sunscreen.
Well, that might not be a fair assumption…but I would be willing to bet that while growing up, and in their 20’s, they rarely wore sunscreen.  I know that’s my case.  Sure, I wore some…but as I’ve said before, I worked as a lifeguard and swim coach, wearing mostly baby oil and iodine to keep my skin soft and golden.  I wore a visor instead of a hat…probably not the smartest idea since I never had a real thick head of hair and often had a burnt scalp.  I spent a lot of time outdoors and unprotected.  Luckily, thus far, I’ve not had any skin cancer.
Hmmm…I take that back.  I have had the “cut it out” kind.  I’ve had actinic keratosis, or “pre-cancer” cut from my scalp before.  I also had a “suspicious” spot cut out of my back that turned out to be basal cell carcinoma.  And I recall that my father, when he was about my age (late 40’s), also had pre-cancer spots removed several times.  And of course, my brother had to top us all.
It’s important to warn the younger folks about the dangers of tanning beds which are nothing less than concentrated dosages of UV radiation.  It’s also important to make others aware of general sun protection.  But at the same time, it’s important to know that an older generation of warriors exist that continue to fight off melanoma.  But don’t look at them with pity…look at them as an example of why it’s important to start the fight and the protection early.

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