Melanoma: The Less Common but More Dangerous Skin Cancer

Amber loved the tanning bed at her local salon.

Unlimited access for a mere $19.99 a month? She could swing that, even as a college student. So Amber rolled the tanning bed into her normal routine.

“What started as a couple of times before a dance or trip, turned into a relaxing activity that I began to enjoy and do more regularly,” Amber writes on aad.org, the American Academy of Dermatology website. “I didn’t think much about it.”

She thinks about it now, and has done so ever since her physical therapy professor noticed a “funny looking mole” on her tummy one day during a PT lab.

A week later, at just 23 years old, Amber was diagnosed with stage II malignant melanoma.

The Most Serious Skin Cancer

As we enter the heart of summer and our time in the sun, Amber’s sobering story serves as a warning siren to limit our exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, be they from natural sunlight, sun lamps or tanning beds.

Melanoma develops when cells called melanocytes – which give skin its tan or brown coloring – grow too rapidly. For some people, there is no preventing melanoma; risk factors such as age, natural skin color, and family history also can create the cancer.

That makes melanoma more complex and dangerous than other forms of skin cancer, says Dr. Jeremy Wigginton, Capital Blue Cross Chief Medical Officer.

“Melanoma is far less common than many other skin cancers,” Dr. Wigginton said, “but it’s also far more dangerous because of its greater likelihood to spread to other areas in your body if it’s left undetected and untreated for too long.

“So it’s absolutely imperative not only to check your own skin for new, abnormal, or changing moles, but to immediately see your dermatologist if you notice one, and to see your dermatologist regularly for checkups.”

Dr. Wigginton says you also can lower your risk through commonsense UV-lessening measures such as seeking shade, using sunscreen, clothing as much of your body as you comfortably can, and wearing hats and sunglasses.

The toll

Melanoma is diagnosed less than 2% as often as nonmelanoma skin cancers in the United States – there are more than 5 million nonmelanoma diagnoses each year, compared to about 98,000 melanoma diagnoses in 2023, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Yet melanoma is up to four times more fatal, with the NCI estimating nearly 8,000 deaths in 2023.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t break down its reported $8.9 billion annual skin cancer cost by cancer type, melanoma’s serious nature requires more ongoing and expensive treatments, so it likely comprises a larger percentage of the price tag than more common skin cancers.

You can help yourself avoid or manage skin cancer with a quality healthcare plan that offers necessary preventive and treatment coverage. Many Capital Blue Cross plans cover preventive visits for skin cancer screening and counseling with a healthcare provider, and many Capital plans also help members cover treatment for diagnosed skin cancers.

Capital Blue Cross also offers presentations addressing sun safety; sun-damage exhibits that screen skin and offer preventive guidance; and access to sun safety and skin cancer prevention videos via the Healthwise Knowledgebase.

Amber’s Arithmetic

It’s a good thing her professor spotted that “funny looking mole” several years ago.

“Little did I know she saved my life,” Amber writes on aad.org.

But that doesn’t mean it’s been smooth sailing. Far from it.

Amber reports that her melanoma has required 38 excisions, 67 stitches, and 27 dermatologist appointments, and generated seven abnormal pathology reports, 19 scars, and a chest x-ray.

Math that makes that $19.99 a month seem like much less of a bargain.