Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Melanoma Awareness 101

You may think you understand melanoma…that you are “aware” of melanoma.  I’d be willing to bet that most folks feel this way because a “friend/relative had a melanoma removed by a dermatologist, which left a big scar.  He seems to be okay now.”  If this is your case, you are not aware of melanoma.  Are you aware that your friend/relative has a 30% chance of melanoma returning, and probably to a more serious level of cancer?  Are you aware that melanoma KILLS one American every hour on average?  Are you aware that melanoma is the MOST COMMON cancer for young adults age 25 to 29?  Knowing these facts is only the first step of awareness.  To be truly aware, you need to understand the PDE of Melanoma…Prevention, Detection and Elimination.

Melanoma is statistically and medically linked to UV radiation.  While exposure to these rays is not the only cause for melanoma, it is a primary factor in 86% of all melanoma cases, and one that’s very preventable.  The general rules to protect you from UV rays are:

·         Wear sunscreen.  Use an SPF of 30.  Remember that no sunscreen is waterproof or sweat proof, so reapply every 2 hours!  And make sure to apply A LOT of sunscreen…a small dab will simply not do.

·         Wear protective clothing.  While long sleeves and long pants are not comfortable in the hot summer, there is clothing that provides a UV protection factor (UPF).  Search for UPF Clothing on Google to find various suppliers such as UVSkinz and Coolibar.

·         Wear a hat.  Make it a floppy or wide-brimmed hat to protect the entire head and neck from all angles.  A baseball cap will help, but make sure to cover the neck and ears with sunscreen!

·         Wear sunglasses with proper UV protection.  Melanoma can occur in places besides the skin, such as the eyes.  Were you aware of that?

·         Stay in the shade!  When visiting a pool or beach, find an umbrella.  At the park?  Sit under a tree or shelter.  Don’t shun the sun, but seek shade to protect your skin.

·         Stay out of the sun during peak hours.  The sun is at its brightest (therefore emits the most UV rays) between 10AM and 4PM.  One rule of thumb…if your shadow is shorter than your height, the sun’s rays are at its most intense.  Try to do outdoor activities in the morning or late afternoon.

·         Avoid tanning salons at all costs.  Tanning beds emit the most harmful UV rays at higher doses.  There are no true health benefits to tanning beds despite what the tanning industry might claim.  Read here for more info about “healthy claims” of tanning salons. 

As stated, not all melanoma can be attributed to UV radiation.  There is evidence that melanoma can be linked to family history.  For uncontrollable risk factors, please check this link.  Knowledge of your risk factors is as much prevention as sunscreen.

This is probably the most important factor of melanoma awareness.  Are you aware that you’d have a survival rate of 97% if your dermatologist found melanoma on you at Stage 1 or 0?  Those are pretty good odds of survival.  But are you aware that your survival rate plummets to a frightening 15% or lower when diagnosed at Stage 4?

Schedule yourself for an annual full body skin exam with a dermatologist who specializing in skin cancer and melanoma.  And I mean FULL body check.  As I stated before, melanoma may be found in places other than those tanning locations like the back and legs.  I have friends who have found melanoma on the soles of their feet, their scalp, their finger or toe nails and even their genitals.

Besides the annual skin exam, perform a self-exam every month.  Check for spots and moles per the following ABCDE guidelines:

A – Asymmetry.  A normal mole should be symmetric in that one side looks like the other.
B – Border.  A mole’s border should be smooth and not jagged.
C – Color.  Check that your mole’s color is a light brown, or at least consistent with other moles on your body.
D – Diameter.  A normal mole’s diameter is less than the diameter of a pencil eraser.
E – Evolving.  A mole that changes in size, color or shape, or starts to bleed, needs to be looked at by a dermatologist.

Make sure you check your entire body and use a hand mirror.  It’s also not a bad idea to have someone help you out. 

Remember that early detection is key, and perhaps the most important factor of melanoma awareness.

It wasn’t long ago that a diagnosis of late-stage melanoma was a death sentence.  However, there have been incredible strides in the last couple years on melanoma treatment.  New drugs and therapies have been approved by the FDA, and more appear to be on the horizon.  But we have a long way to go.

Are you aware that of the seven most common cancers, melanoma is the only one whose incidence continues to increase annually?  Did you know over 76,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year, and that over 9,400 people will died of melanoma in 2013?  Despite the recent advances, we have a long way to go to find a cure to eliminate this cancer. 

All cancer research needs money, and melanoma research is vastly under-funded compared to other cancers.  You can help raise funds by attending a fund-raiser.  Organizations such as AIM at Melanoma and the Melanoma Research Foundation hold walks in cities around the country throughout the year.  Other organizations hold pub crawls, wine tastings, concerts and many other events in an effort to raise money for melanoma research and awareness.  Check out this link to discover an event nearyou!  Your awareness and efforts will help to eliminate melanoma

So now you know…now you know that melanoma is more than a scar on a friend/relative’s back.  It’s a cancer to be taken very seriously and one for which the entire country needs to be aware.  Share this blog post and enlighten others.  Share your awareness on how to prevent melanoma.  Share your awareness on how to important early detection is to fight off melanoma.  And share your time and awareness to help find a cure and eliminate this awful disease.

Be aware.
(Primary source of data to support this piece:  Skin Cancer Foundation)


  1. Great Post! Thank you so much for writing this! I was diagnosed with Stage 1 melanoma a year ago and my husband has been telling me that I'm too over-protective about our young sons in terms of not letting them go out to play during peak sun hours and insisting that they wear sunscreen/hats. I am going to send this post to him. Thanks!

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