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Notice to Readers: National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month --- May 2000

May is National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. This month is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the importance of skin cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment, including basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2000, approximately 1.3 million new cases of highly curable basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas will be detected, approximately 47,700 new cases of malignant melanoma will be diagnosed, and approximately 9600 persons will die from skin cancer (1). Although death rates from basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are low, these cancers can cause considerable damage and disfigurement if they are untreated. However, when detected early, approximately 95% of these carcinomas can be cured.

Data from the National Cancer Institute and CDC show new cases of melanoma increased 4.3% during 1973--1990 and 2.5% during 1990--1995; deaths from melanoma increased 1.7% during 1973--1990 and declined 0.4% during 1990--1995 (2). Among whites, the racial/ethnic population at highest risk, death rates for melanoma are twice as high among men as among women. National health objectives for 2010 include reducing the rate of melanoma deaths from 2.8 per 100,000 population in 1998 to 2.5 per 100,000 (3).

Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays appears to be the most important preventable factor in the development of skin cancer. Skin cancer is largely preventable when sun protection measures against UV rays are used consistently. However, approximately 50% of adults in the United States do not practice any such measures (3). Young people have moderate to high awareness of skin cancer but are unaware of the connection between severe sunburns and skin cancer; sunburns, although considered painful and embarrassing, are not perceived as a health threat (4).

CDC's skin cancer prevention and education efforts, including the Choose Your Cover campaign aimed primarily at young people, encourage all people to protect themselves from the sun's UV rays year-round. The overall goals include influencing social norms related to sun protection and tanned skin as well as improving awareness, knowledge, and behaviors related to skin cancer. CDC's efforts focus on 1) informing the public that even a few serious sunburns can increase a person's risk for skin cancer and 2) promoting the Choose Your Cover sun protection options: seeking shade, covering up, wearing a hat and sunglasses, and using sunscreen that has a sun protection factor of 15 or higher and has both UVA and UVB protection. Information on CDC's Choose Your Cover skin cancer prevention campaign is available at


  1. American Cancer Society. Cancer facts and figures, January 2000. Atlanta, Georgia: American Cancer Society, 2000.
  2. Wingo PA, Ries LA, Giovino GA, et al. Annual report to the nation on the status of cancer, 1973--1996, with a special section on lung cancer and tobacco smoking. J Natl Cancer Inst 1999;91:675--90.
  3. US Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy people 2010 (conference ed., 2 vols). Washington, DC: January 2000.
  4. Jorgensen CM, Wayman J, Green C, Gelb C. Using health communications for primary prevention of skin cancer: CDC's Choose Your Cover campaign. J Womens Health Gend Based Med 2000 (in press).

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