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Many adults are still in the dark about melanoma - the deadliest form of skin cancer - and the role severe childhood sunburn can play in its development, a survey found.

The survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Dermatology found that among adults over 18, about 50 percent of men and 35 percent of women did not recognize the term melanoma, which is caused by excessive exposure to the sun.Only 26 percent could identify early signs of melanoma, which are mole-like growths that are uneven in shape and pigmentation, increase in size, change color, become ulcerated and bleed easily from slight injury.

Only 58 percent knew that a severe childhood sunburn is a risk factor in developing melanoma later in life, the CDC said.

The telephone survey of 1,001 adults in 43 states was released this week.

The youngest participants, those 18 to 24, had the lowest awareness of melanoma when asked about such things as risk factors and warning signs.

"We obviously have a very important job to do to make people aware to the danger of melanoma and the other skin cancers and what they can do about it," said Joann Schellenbach, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society. "Melanoma seems to be a disease that has a 20-, 30-year latency period and is very much caused by bad sunburns in children or adolescents."

Melanoma will cause an estimated 7,300 deaths this year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. About 38,300 people will be diagnosed with the disease in 1996, the society said.

The number of people diagnosed with melanoma increased about 4 percent a year between 1973 and 1992, and the rate of melanoma deaths rose 34 percent, from 1.6 per 100,000 people in 1973 to nearly 2.2 in 1992, the CDC reported last year.



Some facts about melanoma:

Malignant melanoma can spread to other parts of the body quickly but when caught early is highly curable.

Melanomas often start as small, mole-like growths that increase in size, change color, become ulcerated and bleed easily from slight injury.

The "ABCD" rule outlines the warning signs of melanoma:

A: Asymmetry. One half of the mole does not match the other half.

B: Border Irregularity. The edges are ragged, notched or blurred.

C: Color. The pigmentation is not uniform.

D: Diameter. Greater than 6 millimeters, or about a quarter-inch. Any sudden or progressive increase in size should be of particular concern.

Source: American Cancer Society