3 Little Words – Protect. Detect. Live
Melanoma claimed almost 10,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2014 – that is equivalent to about one death per hour every day. The American Academy of Dermatology designates May as Melanoma and Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month to raise awareness about melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Focus is also to encourage early detection of skin cancer through self-exams, with “SPOT Skin Cancer” as the slogan. The first Monday in May has been designated as Melanoma Monday with the tag line under the banner of “Prevent. Detect. Live.”
Melanoma is Serious
Early detection and treatment of melanoma is crucial, as it is the most severe form of skin cancer. The death rate from melanoma is directly related to the depth of invasion of the cancer in the body, due to its potential to spread to the lymph nodes and other organs. Melanoma is the most common type of cancer among young adults in the 25 to 29 year age bracket. Within the 15 to 25 year age group, it is the second most common form of cancer. The good news is that if it is detected and aggressively treated, statistics indicate nearly 100% potential for cure. The bad news is that if allowed to spread undetected, melanoma can quickly spread to other parts of the body, and at that point the health impacts are serious. Once this cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the survival rate falls rapidly.
What Does “Prevent. Detect. Live.” Mean?
The slogan is based on the concept that by being proactively involved in Prevention and Detection, you can influence your potential for survival if melanoma is detected. Thus, the outcome is Live. In short, prevention is preferable by knowing the risk factors and limiting the risk for sunburn and indoor tanning bed exposure. Indoor tanning devices have been found to be especially carcinogenic, causing more than 450,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 10,000 melanoma cases each year in the United States, Europe and Australia.
Intrinsic Risk Factors
Risk factors for melanoma include two types of factors: skin type and family history which are out of your control; and sun exposure, history of sunburn, sun protection and indoor tanning over which you have control for the most part. And anyone can develop melanoma. There is a common misconception that people with more richly hued skin types are not immune to sun damage.
The skin types most at risk of for developing melanoma have:
• Fair skin, especially if you also have red or blond hair and blue or green eyes.
• Sun-sensitive skin, which rarely tans or burns easily.
• 50-plus moles, large moles, or unusual-looking moles.
Family history and your personal medical history significantly contributes as a risk factor for melanoma when:
• Melanoma runs in the family (includes close blood relatives – parent, child, sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle had melanoma).
• You have already had another skin cancer, especially if it was a melanoma.
• You have a weakened immune system.
• There is a history of breast or thyroid cancer.
If your skin type or family history puts you in a higher risk category, it is even more important that you take preventative measures by moderating your sun exposure, using sunscreen religiously, protecting children until they are old enough to understand the importance of sun protection, and avoiding indoor tanning bed exposure.
Some Facts About UV Exposure
Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation has been found to be a primary contributing cause of skin cancers. Did you know that the World Health Organization has placed the cancer causing agents associated with indoor tanning bed use in the same category as tobacco? So just how damaging is UV exposure?
• Excessive exposure to UV sun radiation and indoor tanning is the most significant preventable cause of all types of skin cancers.
• A history of bad sunburns, especially blistering sunburns, and especially in childhood and teenage years increases the risk of melanoma.
• Living closer to the equator where the sunlight is more intense increases the risk of melanoma
• Statistics indicate that the risk of melanoma increases by 50-75% when UV radiation exposure is from indoor tanning. This risk incrementally increases by the number of tanning sessions.
Tips to Help Prevent Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers
Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancers, and there are some simple ways minimize it
Do Not Tan Intentionally. Becoming crispy is for bacon. Tanning is not an Olympic sport. If you need more incentive to stop tanning, watch this video.
Spend time outdoors when the sun is less intense. Before 10 a.m. and after 2 p.m., the sun’s rays are less intense.
Wear SPF 30 or Higher UVA and UVB Protection Sunscreen. Even on cloudy, rainy, and snowy days, you need to wear sunscreen on any area that will be exposed to the sun. That means: back of neck, hands, back of arms, back of knees, earlobes, top of feet, even scalp or hair part. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, after swimming or sweating.
Wear sunglasses that have UV protection. Melanoma can develop in the eyes.
Wear Clothes with Coverage or UV Protection. A hat or visor is essential. Cover up when possible.
The majority of melanoma cases are found on the face, scalp and body, and on harder to detect places such as on the palms or soles of the feet, under fingernails/toenails, in the mouth or other mucous membranes. Melanoma can also occur in locations such as the back lining of the eye, around the spinal cord and brain that are not accessible to visual examination. Most areas, however, can be self-examined.
What do you look for? You can get an idea by looking for the ABCDE signs of melanoma as outlined in the graphic. However, you might not notice one that is abnormal and focus on one that is normal. Dr. Timani says it is the patients’ job to be aware of changes, and it is her job to determine if it is abnormal or not. She recommends that if you notice a new or changing spot or mole that you schedule an appointment for a skin exam. If there is any question, Dr. Timani will take a biopsy for dermatopathology examination and diagnosis. The main objective is detect melanoma early, and avoid the risk with preventative measures. Life is more precious than repeated sunburns and leather-like skin.
When you schedule annual full body skin exams at Johns Creek Dermatology and Family Medicine, and perform self checks, melanoma can be detected early, when the curable rate is close to 100%. The procedure can be performed in the office which is conveniently located for patients in South Forsyth, Gwinnett and North Fulton counties and the surrounding North Atlanta area. After numbing the skin, Dr. Timani makes an excision to remove the melanoma along with a surrounding ring of normal skin as a safety margin. If the melanoma is more advanced, or in a particularly difficult area, in-patient surgery may be required for the removal of the melanoma or for further treatment.