Melanoma and other skin cancers are getting big play this month of May with awareness events sponsored by the #protectyourskinDE initiative launched within the state.
The Centers for Disease Control ranks Delaware fifth nationwide in incidence of melanoma, which is the strain of cancer responsible for 75 percent of skin cancer deaths.
The American Cancer Society reports skin cancer to be the most common of all cancers; diagnoses of skin cancer account for more cases than new incidents of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined.
Better early detection is increasing survival rates, says Lisa Henry, chief of chronic disease at the Delaware Departement of Public Health, but the continued uptick in diagnoses of skin cancer, particularly melanoma, is still disconcerting.
May is melanoma-awareness month and a collaboration between DPH and other community organizations seeks to raise public awareness about skin cancer.
One woman's story:
Dover resident Terri Stoakley said she grew up a "baby-oil baby," tanning on Lewes, Rehoboth and Dewey beaches in the '70s and lathering up with the oil for infants to intensify her bronze.
"I did a lot of damage when I was younger, just laying out in the sun all the time, going to tanning beds," Stoakley said. "Everybody just oiled up and laid out."
Stoakley said near her 40th birthday she found a spot of irritated skin that she previously thought to be eczema was actually diagnosed as basal cell carcinoma.
Since she got the news nearly 12 years ago, Stoakley said she has been through between five and 10 surgeries on her face alone, not to mention smaller surgeries to remove cancerous skin from various parts of her body.
At first, Stoakley said she didn't take the news seriously. She would have spots removed from her body and then go back to sunbathing and tanning as she had in the past.
It wasn't until she had surgery on her face and the cancer on her nose returned that Stoakley said she began to see the error of her ways and reform her SPF-free sun-worshipping ways.
"It really wasn’t until they started cutting on my face; that’s when I realized its time to wake up and stop tanning," Stoakley said. "My last major surgery was almost two years ago and required 100 stitches on my nose, it was pretty bad."
Skin cancer in Delaware, by the numbers
Though cancer rates overall seem to be decreasing nationwide, Henry said rates of skin cancer haven't followed the same pattern in Delaware.
“Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and unlike all other kinds of cancer, the rates are climbing,” said Henry. “From 2006 to 2010, Delaware’s melanoma incidence rate increased nearly 64 percent, three times the nation’s rate.”
The good news is, mortality also fell during that same time period, so Henry is hesitant draw too many conclusions about this data. Better early detection may be the cause of increased incidence and higher survival rates, she said.
"The earlier we find any skin cancers the better off people are," Henry said. "We are seeing our mortality rates going in the right direction, meaning we are seeing less people dying, which could again be linked to getting the word out and better early detection."
Although Delaware was ranked fifth in incidence of melanoma, nationwide, the state was ranked 28th in mortality, which may be the product of better early screening and intervention.
The CDC reports melanoma is the fifth most common type of cancer for males and the seventh most common for females, nationwide.
Men are more likely to die from melanoma and young men account for 40 percent of melanoma cases, but more than 60 percent of melanoma deaths.
From ages 15-39, men are 55 percent more likely to die of melanoma than women in the same age group.
The Skin Cancer Foundation reports the majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men over age 50.
With that said, everyone must still be cautious of the sun, the group reports nearly one in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of a lifetime.
Melanoma and skin cancer awareness with #ProtectyourskinDE events, including "Don't Fry Day" will be held statewide until May 31. For more information go to www.protectyourskinde.com.