Monday, May 30, 2011

Doctor-Prescribed Tanning Sessions?

No SmokingThree North Carolina state senators are proposing a bill in the State Legislature which would require those under 18 to have a doctor’s prescription to use tanning beds.
Okay, I admit I support a ban on tanning beds for minors (more on that later), but why do so under the guise of a prescription-only policy?  There may indeed be a need to have someone prescribed some type of UV radiation, but shouldn’t anything “prescribed” be done so by a licensed radiologist and not by a corner tanning salon?  Why don’t they just simply propose a ban of commercial tanning beds for minors?  Do they think that such wording is too harsh and would be met with too much political criticism?
One article I read was opposed to such legislature as well as to outright bans.  They argued that the government acts as a nanny far too much…restricting the use of alcohol, smoking and some over-the-counter drugs.  I find this to be a very interesting argument.  Is this person proposing that we lift the drinking age and smoking age restrictions? 
As for smoking, this probably mirrors the current melanoma struggles since there were anti-smoking campaigns for years before tobacco use started to decline.  But you know what?  Skin cancer outnumbers lung cancer…and for young adults, even melanoma outnumbers lung cancer.  The campaign to restrict access to smoking and incur age limits helped to reduce the occurrence of lung cancer.  Why can’t we have the same battle regarding melanoma?  This is the NUMBER ONE cancer for young adults.  What’s the reason for the resistance?  Vanity!  Remember the Virginia Slim commercials announcing that women had as much a right to smoke as men?  Remember the rugged Marlboro Man?  Remember how smoking promised to make one look cooler?  Remember how high the rate of lung cancer was?  All this changed (although not enough) because society finally realized that’s smoking is NOT cool and it causes cancer and all sorts of other health problems.
Guess what?  So does UV radiation.  And a tanning bed provides concentrated doses of such radiation.  Imagine if your teenage daughter wanted to smoke and she develops a moderate habit of smoking.  Let’s equate this to tanning in the sun.  You tell her to apply sunscreen, but vanity dictates she try to get a good looking tan, despite the burns and the warnings, so she continues to lay in the sun unprotected.  Now let’s say she wants to go to a tanning bed and get a concentrated dose of UV rays.  Tanning beds provide as much as 15 times the radiation as the sun.  Let’s go back to the smoking analogy.  Let’s stick a helmet over your daughter’s head and pump fifteen cigarette’s worth of smoke in there at one time.  Would you allow it?
I’m not sure whether smoking is illegal for those who are underage, but I know that there are restrictions for selling tobacco products to minors.  The same should be enacted for tanning beds.  It’s not illegal to get a tan…simply do so the old fashioned way by using the sun.  It’s legal…stupid but legal.  But selling tans to minors via tanning beds and tanning booths should be illegal.  And it shouldn’t be disguised under a prescription-only policy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A 97% Survival Rate Ain't As Good As You Think

So many statistics regarding melanoma, and any cancer, refer to “survival rates.”  For instance, those with melanoma caught in the latter stages (Stage IV for instance) have a 15% survival rate (or less) whereas those that had their melanoma caught in the very early stages have a 97% survival rate.  Wow…so it seems like if one catches it early enough, melanoma is no big deal…right?  Well, yes and no.
Let’s talk about the definition of survival rate.  It basically means you have that percentage chance of being alive in 5 years.  That’s it…5 years…and being alive.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be cancer free.  It doesn’t mean you’ll not undergo surgery and other procedures and treatments.  It doesn’t mean you’ll be unscarred.  It simply means you’ll be alive.
When you have an early melanoma, there’s a good chance it can be removed with great success.  And your actual survival chance may go beyond those 5 years.  Or, it might not.  My brother had an early melanoma removed from his back.  It appeared to be a small mole, so he assumed a small incision would do the trick.  What was taken out looked like a good-sized divot left by a bad golfer (which I understand all too well).  In fact, he said if he lay on his stomach, a baseball could comfortably sit in his “dent.”  Yes, he made his five years as predicted, but he had a rather large scar to show for it.
I’ve read that scars should be seen as signs of survival.  I’ve also read that many melanoma survivors showcase their scars to encourage others to take preventative action.  I applaud such action...but I also know many others hide their scars.  My brother did.
And as many of you know, he survived his 5 years, but he didn’t make it to his 7th.  The melanoma came back as often happens, and this time, it won.
My point here is that people should not rest easy when they read about 97% survival rates.  It only means you might be alive in 5 years…it doesn’t mean you’ll be rid of melanoma’s impact.  You may experience months or years of illness.  You’ll possibly have disfiguring scars.  You may still have the cancer.  Melanoma is serious business and should not be taken lightly, no matter the stage when detected.
The only way to rest easy is simply to not get it.  Take preventative action…wear sunscreen and by all means, avoid tanning beds.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Melanoma's Milder Siblings - Not To Be Taken Lightly

As I, and many other bloggers, have stated, melanoma doesn’t seem to get the same “respect” as other cancers.  One reason for this is the relatively easy treatment of skin cancer when it’s caught early.  Depending on which source you read, the five-year survival rate of even the beast of all skin cancers, melanoma, is well above 90% when the cancer is detected in its early stages.  So if such cancer can be treated so easily, why worry about it…right?  But then again, the non- melanoma cancers should not be so easily ignored.
Basal cell carcinoma, or BCC, is the most common cancer of all cancers, affecting about a million Americans each year.  More than one out of three new cancers is a skin cancer and the vast majority is BCC.  Even more so than melanoma, BCC can be easily treated in its early stage.  But the larger the tumor has grown, the more extensive the treatment.  Basal cell carcinoma rarely metastasizes or spreads like melanoma, but if left untreated or ignored, it could result in skin destruction and disfiguring.  Recently, Governor Jerry Brown of California had a BCC removed from his nose and required plastic surgery afterwards.
The other, more serious skin cancer sibling is squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC.  Like BCC, SCC is often found in areas where sun exposure is high, such as the ear, face, bald scalp, neck, hands arms and legs.  Those who have had a basal cell carcinoma are more likely to develop a squamous cell carcinoma.  The majority of skin cancer found in African Americans is SCC, usually arising from sites of burns or skin injuries.  A small percentage (2% to 10%) of SCC can metastasize which can be life-threatening.  About 2,500 people die each year from squamous cell carcinoma.
The treatment percentage for BCC and SCC is very high when compared to melanoma, and the resulting ease to remove the tumor in early stages contributes to people’s misunderstanding of the seriousness of all skin cancers, including melanoma.  But it’s important to remember that both of these milder “cut-it-out” cancers can result in disfiguring scars from the surgery, or even death.  And just like melanoma, it’s important to remember that UV radiation and over exposure to sunlight is the main cause.
It bears repeating…use sunscreen and be smart about sun exposure.  Even simple ol’ skin cancer can have devastating consequences.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Older Warriors

It seems the number one topic during this Melanoma Awareness Month is the campaign to either ban tanning beds or to convince teenagers that it’s a bad idea.  More and more statistics show that people are getting melanoma at a younger age…and perhaps due to the increased use of tanning beds.  I’ve mentioned before that melanoma is the most common cancer for young adults ages 25 to 29.  It’s a valid point and one worth emphasizing to help make younger people aware of the dangers.
But guess what?  The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men over the age of 50.  My brother died of melanoma at the age of 55.  A few readers of my blog are men in their late 40’s or 50’s.  There has been nearly a 9 percent increase in melanoma incidence in older white men (over 65) since 2003.  This is the highest increase of any gender or group.  The reason?  One thought is that men over the age of 40 have the highest annual exposure to UV.  Yet, I’m sure we’re all not lining up at the tanning booths.
No, we men tend to be outside a lot.  I just now spent my day off mowing the lawn and weeding the flower beds (or is that weeding the weed beds?)  Every weekend, neighborhood men can be seen washing cars, jogging, mowing the lawn, going to softball games, hitting the golf course and participating in any number of outdoor activities.  This is not to say that women do not, but I think it’s true that men spend a lot of time outdoors.  And I bet if you took a survey, the majority would respond that they’ve not applied sunscreen.
Well, that might not be a fair assumption…but I would be willing to bet that while growing up, and in their 20’s, they rarely wore sunscreen.  I know that’s my case.  Sure, I wore some…but as I’ve said before, I worked as a lifeguard and swim coach, wearing mostly baby oil and iodine to keep my skin soft and golden.  I wore a visor instead of a hat…probably not the smartest idea since I never had a real thick head of hair and often had a burnt scalp.  I spent a lot of time outdoors and unprotected.  Luckily, thus far, I’ve not had any skin cancer.
Hmmm…I take that back.  I have had the “cut it out” kind.  I’ve had actinic keratosis, or “pre-cancer” cut from my scalp before.  I also had a “suspicious” spot cut out of my back that turned out to be basal cell carcinoma.  And I recall that my father, when he was about my age (late 40’s), also had pre-cancer spots removed several times.  And of course, my brother had to top us all.
It’s important to warn the younger folks about the dangers of tanning beds which are nothing less than concentrated dosages of UV radiation.  It’s also important to make others aware of general sun protection.  But at the same time, it’s important to know that an older generation of warriors exist that continue to fight off melanoma.  But don’t look at them with pity…look at them as an example of why it’s important to start the fight and the protection early.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dear My 16-Year Old Self

Wow...I saw this video on Chelsea's Blog ("Adventures with My Enemy...Melanoma"...a great blog!) and was just simply moved by its message.  It's THE message we're all trying to send...the one we're all trying to make people aware.  It's a video made of various people from different backgrounds that all have suffered either directly, or indirectly from melanoma.  Each one is sending a message to their 16-year old self, warning them of the dangers of melanoma.

The video is about five minutes long, but I swear you'll not feel you're sitting all that long.  Five minutes to potentially save your life.  Please...PLEASE...share this video with as many people as you can.  At this very moment, I'm at work and unable to log onto Facebook...but the moment I get home, you can bet I'll post it there.  I encourage you to do so as well!

Spread the word...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Is Skin Cancer/Melanoma Awareness Month

Below is a letter I wrote to a few local newspapers...none of them have printed yet.  Just a general announcement of Skin Cancer/Melanoma Awareness Month.  Keep a look out throughout the month on my Facebook page and on here for general melanoma facts and suggestions for prevention and detection.  Now, here's the letter...

May brings in the unofficial start to summer, but if not careful, it also brings blistering sun burns.  This needs to be taken very seriously as even one sun burn can contribute to the formation of skin cancer, including melanoma which is serious and deadly.
May is Skin Cancer/Melanoma Awareness month.  Each year, there are more new cases of skin cancer than cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon combined.  There’s a stigma that “it’s just skin cancer” and can be easily removed.  If detected early enough, this might be true.  But one person dies of melanoma every hour.  And it’s not just an old person’s cancer.  Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25 to29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15 to 29 years old.  Skin cancer IS cancer and should be taken seriously.  It’s also one of the most preventable cancers.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends wearing sun screen of at least SPF 15, and to reapply every couple hours.  Also, it’s important to wear hats and UV sunglasses to protect your eyes.  Avoid tanning beds at all costs!  UV radiation is many times more intense in a tanning bed which is considered by the World Health Organization to be in the same group of cancer-causing  agents as plutonium and cigarettes. 
You can enjoy the outdoors and the walks for your causes, but do so by respecting the sun's rays and wearing your sunscreen!