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Common Pesticides Linked to Melanoma

By Stephen Schleicher, MD, Director, DermDOX Center for Dermatology

Malignant melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. Studies document that many cases of melanoma are correlated with blistering sunburns experienced as a child or teenager. Additional risk factors include family history of this disease, the presence of atypical looking moles, and frequenting indoor tanning salons.

I read with interest an article published March 31, 2010 in the publication Environment Health News entitled:  farm pesticides linked to deadly skin cancer.  Researchers identified six commonly used pesticides that with repeated exposure double the risk of developing melanoma. Although two have been taken off the market, four are still utilized in this country on fruits, nuts and vegetables. One of the pesticides, carbaryl, is an active ingredient in the insecticide Sevin found in virtually any garden and home improvement center.

Of course individuals who apply pesticides, especially farmers, are often chronically exposed to the sun. Thus drawing a firm conclusion from this study is difficult although European data also supports the link with melanoma. The article points out that it is better to be safe than sorry. Insecticide labels carry warnings and these should be vigorously heeded. For example, the warning label on Sevin states: Applicators and other handlers must wear long-sleeved shirt and long pants and chemical resistant gloves.

Warning signs of melanoma include a mole that has changed in size or has developed symptoms such as itching or bleeding. Any atypical looking mole or one with irregular pigment or a notched border warrants consultation with a dermatologist. Approximately 70,000 new melanomas are diagnosed annually in the US. Whether pesticides join the list of sun exposure and indoor tanning as potential causes of this skin cancer remains to be seen. I infrequently apply pesticides to my lawn and shrubs but will certainly exercise a great deal more caution when doing so from this time foreward.

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