Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Melanoma: Prevent It!

My name and “the Big C” was mentioned in the same breath about 6 years ago.  I was at the most fun part of my annual physical (smirk) when the physician’s assistant said she felt a large lump on my prostate.  After she let me pull my pants up and limp back to the exam table, she told me that I should see an urologist as soon as possible.  About two weeks later, I visited Mr. Long Fingers and he confirmed the same finding…a big ol’ lump.  He scheduled a biopsy within the next couple of weeks to see what could be found.  After fishing around (literally…it felt like fish hooks), he announced a few weeks later that the results were confusing at best.  He wanted to go fishing again with a bigger pole.  After I submitted double the samples and implanted my finger prints onto the metal exam table, we met again another few weeks later.  The results were negative…thank goodness.  Then he muttered…”but the previous confusing results suggest that you are very high risk for prostate cancer.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you had it when you turn 50.”
I’m 49 now.
When I first entered this phase of my life, I did a lot of online reading about prostate cancer.  I think we all do that when we receive some type of new information.  But after he cleared me and announced my potential for revisiting the fishing-hole exam room, I started to read up on prostate cancer prevention.  What I found was, except for a few supplements or vitamins, the best way to prevent prostate cancer was eat right and exercise more.
I can’t say I’ve followed the advice closely.  I’ve tried to eat better and tried to exercise more, but like most other people, I could do better.
But I digress.  My point is there really is no prevention for prostate cancer.  And as I have read a little about other cancers, including breast cancer, the same preventative measures are listed.  Eat right and exercise more.   Cancer in general is just a mystery.  That’s why millions a year are spent on research to find out what causes the disease.  This goes for all cancers…with the possible exception of one.
There are a variety of possible causes for melanoma, but the one main undeniable cause is exposure to UV radiation.  This includes UV rays from the sun and those obtained in tanning beds/booths.  Does this mean that everyone that uses a tanning bed or sunbathes on the beach will get skin cancer?  No.  Did most people (greater than 3 out of 4) that was diagnosed with melanoma get it from exposure to UV rays?  Yes.  We’re talking 75% of the people that have melanoma today probably would not have it had that done one thing in the past.
Prevented it.
And not from simply eating right and exercising more.  They would have prevented it by avoiding the sun’s ray by wearing protective clothing or sunscreen and by staying the heck away from tanning beds.  Right now, we lose about one melanoma patient an hour…24 per day.  Had the 75% that had melanoma due to UV rays simply avoided it by protecting themselves, 18 people would not have died from the disease today.
There have been great strides in treating various cancers and we hope that one day, there is a cure for all.  But until that day, the best way to remain cancer –free is to not get it at all.  There’s no set rule for most cancer…but for melanoma and skin cancer, there is.  Do yourself a favor by wearing sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds.  You CAN prevent melanoma.

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