Predicting Melanoma? And Will It Matter?
Last updated: March 2023
I spent much of my youth in the sun. Growing up in California meant beach trips, days at Disneyland, camping, and jaunts to the mountains for fishing and sledding. I was an active child and spent countless hours outside. I am grateful for these experiences. I also believe that those hours in the sun had an effect on my skin (not to mention my zealous tanning).
Melanoma is a result of cumulative sun damage
My melanoma diagnosis was a surprise to me as I had never heard of the disease and barely knew anything about skin cancer. We know now that melanoma may have been a new concept for me, but it was actually the cumulative result of years of skincare mismanagement. It was not new to my body. This is the basis of my advocacy, especially with our youth.
The latest in melanoma research
I recently came across an article based on research, that indicates that it is possible to understand the amount of cellular damage to the skin even before a melanoma lesion presents itself. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have discovered genomic methods, which can discover skin damage to estimate baseline melanoma risk in people who present “normal” skin.1
Idenify and monitor those who are high-risk
According to this research, many individuals with seemingly healthy skin have numerous cellular mutations associated with melanoma. UCSF Department of Dermatology Assistant Professor Hunter Shain explains that melanoma is really the “endpoint” after years of mutational damage. He goes on to state that this research and the techniques followed by these doctors can allow them to track high-risk individuals based on the cellular evaluation.1
Finding melanoma early
While the research team’s study was limited in scope, the results seem promising. Professor Shain went on to note that only 30% of melanoma develop from existing moles.1 This indicates that melanoma develops in areas previously not considered an obvious risk. If there were convenient, accessible, and affordable ways to assess and monitor risk, then these folks could be monitored more closely.
Monitoring against baselines
We use baseline measurements in internal medicine and dentistry. When I get my bloodwork done, my doctor can look at previous testing to see how things are trending. My dentist notes previous x-rays. Even my dermatologist compares the measurements of existing moles over time. This kind of research encourages me and I will track developments with this.
Making melanoma risk assessment accessible to all
My biggest concern with any scientific developments in diagnosis is that it will get to the people who need it the most. Accessibility to these discoveries is critical to their overall effectiveness. At times, I feel more informed than many in the medical community about the latest in research. I advocate for skin cancer with my doctors.
Plus increased awareness and advocacy
Also, what good is this information if people don’t access it? If people are lackadaisical with regard to check-ups and general skincare, then these types of discoveries may sit on the “shelf.” Also, if the latest in skincare diagnostics and therapies don’t reach those with limited access to health care, then its effectiveness is spotty.
All this leads me to the thought that advocacy for good skincare practices is most effective when there is “buy-in” from the entire community. The latest discoveries in cellular mutational damage will help those who can access them.
Do you sunscreen in the fall?