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As warm weather arrives and more people are spending time outdoors and at the beach, it’s important to remember that during the spring and summer months, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are at their strongest. “I always remind my patients that skin cancer can take years to develop, which means that most sun damage often occurs early in life. For most of us, 80 percent of sun damage occurs before the age of 18,” says Bruce Robinson, M.D., member of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.
Dr. Robinson notes that while melanoma was once thought of as a disease only among older adults – this is not the case today. In fact, he has seen a notable increase of skin cancer occurring in younger patients. “I warn my young patients about the danger UV rays can cause in a short period of time – just one spring break vacation or a few weekend trips to the beach are all that’s needed to cause skin damage,” says Dr. Robinson.
Following are two patient stories that prove that skin cancer does not show age discrimination.
Sebastian Dumonet, a 21-year-old college student who lives in New York City was diagnosed with melanoma at the young age of 18. An avid rugby player, Sebastian spent many hours outdoors. “Sometimes during summer rugby practices, the heat would become so unbearable that I would simply remove my t-shirt mid-practice. But, I didn’t always apply sunscreen,” says Sebastian. Even after being routinely exposed to dangerous UV rays, Sebastian didn’t see the need to go for a skin cancer examination because he was so young. However, his mother encouraged him to see Dr. Robinson. During an examination, Dr. Robinson found a suspicious mole on Sebastian’s back – an area of his skin that was commonly exposed to the sun during rugby practices, and the most common area for skin cancer development in men. “At first I was completely shocked. I’m healthy, active and I was in my freshman year of college. But after speaking with Dr. Robinson about proper sun protection, I realized how unaware I was of how the sun was damaging my skin.” Fortunately for Sebastian, Dr. Robinson spotted the mole in its earliest stage of melanoma and was able to remove all the skin cancer. Today, Sebastian visits Dr. Robinson for annual check-ups and continues to play rugby with his shirt on at all times.
Andrew Kelley, a London-born New York resident, was diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 25. Even though he had little sun exposure, he decided to visit Dr. Robinson for a simple skin cancer examination. “With so many new studies out there about melanoma becoming more common among young adults, I knew that I’d gain peace of mind by seeing Dr. Robinson,” says Andrew. Dr. Robinson spotted a brown spot on Andrew’s chest which showed to be a significant case of melanoma. “In my 16 years of being a dermatologic surgeon I only had to send two patients to Memorial Sloan-Kettering for serious melanoma cases -- Andrew was the third,” says Dr. Robinson. Andrew adds, “I always had fair skin, I’ve never been overexposed to sunlight and I have no history of skin cancer in my family. A simple painless skin exam saved my life at the age of 25.”
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