Melanoma Risk Factors

There’s no question that a primary trigger in developing skin cancer (and its most lethal form, melanoma) is unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, there are some factors that can increase our susceptibility. Some of them are within our control, and, unfortunately, some of them are not.

Regardless, it’s still vital to be aware of both, as knowing these risks are there will make us more likely to pay closer attention to our skin. Catching melanoma early enough can easily mean the difference between life and death.

There’s a famous old saying that applies so well to skin cancer, its’ author could very well be referring specifically to it: Knowledge is power.

We’re here to provide some of that knowledge today, with the hope that you’ll help us spread it far and wide.

What Can’t I Control Regarding Melanoma?

Right up front, we’d like to clarify a popular misconception that skin cancer is strictly a Caucasian disease. Believing that incorrect notion can turn out to be a huge mistake. Any human being of any ethnicity can develop melanoma.

With that said, melanoma does play favorites. Whites have the greatest risk at about 1 in 44. In descending order, they’re followed by Hispanics (1 in 250), Native Americans (1 in 350) Asians (1 in 800) and Blacks (1 in 1,100).

The following uncontrollable risk factors for melanoma are grouped together based on their amount of risk:

Characteristics that increase melanoma risk by a factor of 2-4:

  • One atypical mole
  • 50 or more normal moles
  • Heavily freckled with no atypical moles
  • Green or blue eyes, blond or red hair
  • Parkinson’s Disease

(Click HERE for more information on atypical versus normal moles)

Characteristics that increase risk by a factor of 9 or more:

  • 10 or more atypical moles
  • Personal history of melanoma
  • If two or more immediate family members have had melanoma, or if you are heavily freckled and one immediate family member has had melanoma, you have a 100% chance of getting it
  • Specific skin diseases, including Lupus and Xeroderma Pigmentosum, carry a high but undefined risk
  • Photosensitizing medication or treatment increases the risk, but the degree has yet to been determined

What Can I Control Regarding Melanoma?

Depending on your current age, some of these points may have already passed you by. If at one time any of them applied to you, it’s important to keep an extra-sharp eye out when doing your monthly skin self-examinations. Those who are in the two highest risk categories should have a dermatologist examine them every six months at minimum. Due to their skin-specific medical training, dermatologists are more adept at diagnosing skin cancer than general practitioners are:

  • Unprotected intermittent skin exposure to sunlight during any season of the year, in any climate
  • A single blistering sunburn under age 20 doubles the risk; 3 or more increase it 5 times
  • One use of a tanning bed under age 35 ups the odds nearly 1¼ times, while 10 or more uses under age 30 elevates the risk nearly 8 times

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Freckles versus Moles

The name of this week’s skin cancer blog post may sound a bit like the title of a Grade B movie.  However, it’s actually a reference to a common confusion between the two titled skin conditions that we very often come across. Hopefully, this piece will help to alleviate any confusion.

Freckle Facts

To help illustrate the differences, we’re going to provide some of the most useful information to have regarding freckles and flat moles. We’ll begin with the most important fact. Unlike flat moles, true freckles lack any cellular structure, which makes it impossible for any of them to turn cancerous. So if that’s ever in any way been a worry to either you or someone you know, you can put it out of your mind.

 With that said, here are some answers to a few more freckle FAQ’s. A mole can be flat, raised or partially-raised. They’re often secluded on our skin, and when not they’re part of an irregular grouping of other moles. By contrast freckles, which are simply clusters of melanin (our natural skin pigment), are without exception always flat.

Unlike some moles, freckles are never present at birth. They present later, after sun-exposure, to people who are predisposed to getting them. Moles are usually darker than freckles, with the latter susceptible to lightening in the winter and darkening during the summer months. To literally illustrate the difference, here are photos of both. The left picture depicts flat moles, and the right one, freckles: 

 

 

 

 

 

We’d kindly ask you to keep one thing in mind. While freckles by themselves are totally harmless, having them usually means having a light complexion and/or sun-damaged skin. As such, extra care should be taken in the form of monthly self-examination of your skin, and meticulous sunscreen use whenever you’re outdoors.

*Additional source: Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) Newsletter (Spring 2013)

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Redheads and Melanoma

It’s very important for all of us to remember that UV rays, from minor sun skin damage all the way up to the potentially fatal melanoma, can impact any human being regardless of his or her race. However, due to the nature of melanoma, there are some groups of people who are more susceptible to this awful disease than others are. This blog post will focus on one of those groups.

Redheads at Risk

While melanoma is certainly an equal opportunity menace, it can and does play favorites. Unfortunately, people who have natural red hair are one group of them.

The odds that a redheaded individual will contract melanoma is far greater than it is for people without pale skin tones, or who have darker-complexions. The reason for this may be the varying levels of two distinct types of melanin pigment present within each group.

At issue is that the amount of red pheomelanin within redheads far exceeds the amount of black eumelanin they possess. The latter is “photoprotective” and “tends to absorb UV radiation and provides minor protection of the skin from UV damage”, while the former is “phototoxic”, and “when it absorbs UV radiation it releases cancer-promoting substances known to cause DNA mutationsthe release of these cancer-promoting molecules was found to continue for two to three hours after UV exposure had stopped.*

Preventing Ginger Ail

What all the medical jargon boils down to is that redheads need to be particularly thorough when practicing their sun-safety techniques. Also, they must be extremely attentive during their monthly skin self-examinations. Any new odd-looking moles or blemishes, or any changes to existing ones, should be called to the attention of a dermatologist as quickly as is possible.

Finally, just because it’s so vital to reinforce this fact, we’d like to remind you that none of us is off the hook. Regular skin self-exams are crucial for everyone to perform; regardless of race, gender or skin tone.

It’s just that redheads need to be extra careful.

*Additional information source citation: Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) newsletter (Spring 2015)

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

MEF’s Focus on Education Over Research

When we began the Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) in 1999, we briefly considered throwing our support to the research side of skin cancer. However, we ultimately concluded that for us specifically, the best way to make a difference was to focus exclusively on melanoma education. We’ve maintained that focus for over 18 years, and the results of our efforts continually prove that we made the right decision.

Why Education?

The MEF was created by our founder after he suffered the tragic loss of his son Dan to melanoma at 26 years of age. As we began reaching out to other victims of this disease and their families, we quickly became aware of a few very disheartening truths. Most melanoma patients possessed little-to-no knowledge about the affliction prior to developing it or, even worse, until it progressed too far to stop.

Moreover, we discovered that most middle and high school health and wellness educators were also uninformed about melanoma. As such, they don’t ever mention anything about it in their health classes. That is a huge opportunity lost, because the odds of developing melanoma skyrocket in our mid-20s. How can we expect children and adolescents to understand (or to simply be aware) of the risks associated with exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays if they’re not provided with the information?

The Choice

Research is a short word with a chasm full of different definitions; particularly when it’s associated with medical science. We wanted to accomplish as much as possible with our limited finances, and we had a choice. We could’ve given our support to “research”, but to be honest what does that even mean? Does anyone who’s ever dropped a dollar into a store’s countertop jar to benefit a given disease know where that money goes? Or how much of that dollar will actually get to where it’s most needed? Sure, it feels good but there’s nothing tangible about it. You don’t even really know how much of a difference you’ve made, if any. Even worse, you’ll never know.

Like the legendary Jonas Salk, the medical scientist who rid the world of the scourge of Polio, sooner or later some group of scientists working for some massive pharmaceutical company are going to take down melanoma. But what if it’s later rather than sooner? And what about all the melanoma victims who’ll die in the meantime of a disease they could’ve easily avoided had they only known? What we could contribute to the development of new skin cancer medicines and technologies would be akin to tossing a Dixie Cup full of spring water into Lake Superior.

On the other hand…

What if, instead, we directed our attention to reaching teachers about the importance of melanoma education in the classroom? If successful we could make a tremendous difference through bypassing the post-acquisition treatments and cutting skin cancer off at its’ source.

There’s infinite wisdom in the old adage ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. And over these last 18 years we’ve exceeded our greatest expectations. The melanoma lessons our website offers are now being taught in over 1,700 middle and high schools spread across 49 U.S. states.

What helps is that, as deadly as it can be, melanoma has a few vulnerabilities that are easy to exploit- and also easy to instruct others about. If caught early enough, a simple doctor’s office excision carries a 98% cure rate. And melanoma is one of the few potentially fatal diseases that loudly announces itself ahead of time with skin changes, blemishes and discolorations. These can then be found during a short, monthly skin self-examination.

We’ve taken numerous surveys and have had countless conversations. And we’ve heard time and time again from students, teachers and our website’s visitors that they’ve all found early melanomas they would not have paid any attention to were it not for their MEF education.

One day, melanoma will be swept away into the dustbin of medical history where it belongs…

…but until that joyous day comes, we will continue to honor Dan- and the millions like him -by aggressively working to deny skin cancer as many victims as we possibly can.

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Can Smartphone Apps Detect Melanoma?

Smartphones Preparing to Take on Skin Cancer

For thousands of years, humanity’s progress in the fields of medicine and technology moved along at a glacial pace. That lack of speed is now, quite literally, ancient history. Today’s scientists and physicians are making advancements, improving diagnostic instruments and developing new treatments at seemingly the speed of light. No sooner does one breakthrough occur than it’s quickly replaced by an even better, more effective one.

There is perhaps no greater cause for excitement than when new scientific technology is married to some aspect of medical science. And it appears that we may right now be on the cusp of another such achievement. It concerns the all-important early detection of potentially fatal melanoma; the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Can Smartphone Apps Detect Melanoma?

A group of scientists based out of California’s Stanford University have created an extraordinary smartphone app. It employs artificial intelligence that allows a smartphone to “view” uploaded pictures of moles and skin blemishes; and then determine whether they’re skin cancer. In ongoing trials the app has shown itself to be remarkably accurate.

Imagine the positive impact such a device would have for people who live in sparsely populated regions and areas without easy access to a dermatologist. Or those with low incomes and little-to-no medical insurance.

Theoretically, the app would inform its user if skin cancer or melanoma has been detected, and at that point he or she could quickly make a dermatological appointment. If a mole is benign, it saves the person from unnecessary travel costs and medical bills.

However, it’s important to note that the future has not yet arrived. As promising as this technology is, it’s not yet been perfected. In fact, two years ago the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) admonished both Mole Detective and Mel App for false advertising when neither company could offer scientific proof to substantiate their promotional publicity statements.

If you do decide to give this technology a try, an app like SkinVision will allow you to store multiple images of your mole or blemish. This allows users to chronicle any changes that can later be easily produced for their dermatologists. This is of a greater benefit than an occasional, self-visual observation.

Drawbacks

Unfortunately, it’s possible for even the most experienced dermatologist to be tricked into thinking a nodular melanoma is benign after a single visual appraisal. As such, it’s unreasonable to expect that a smartphone app will always provide a correct assessment after analyzing a single image.

Doppler: Not Just for Predicting Weather

Aside from the general anxiety caused by the thought of potentially receiving an unwanted diagnosis, many people put off scheduling skin exams due to an expectation that some element of pain will be involved. First, a routine skin exam is non-invasive. A doctor or dermatologist will look you over and, if necessary, use a special magnification instrument to check any suspicious moles up close.

When melanoma is suspected, the next step is to excise the affected area and have the tissue biopsied by a pathologist. However, Lancaster University scientists have created a new, painless way to test; best described in this direct quote from the cited ScienceDaily.com article:

Researchers have developed a new non-invasive technique which can accurately detect malignant melanoma without a biopsy. Their report shows that a special technique using a laser to detect the subtle differences in blood flow beneath the skin enabled researchers to tell the difference between malignant melanoma and non-cancerous moles.

The laser referenced is called a Doppler Laser.

Of course, nothing is better for our overall skin health than an examination by a fully-qualified dermatologist. But due to the vital importance of a quick skin cancer diagnosis, once ready these highly-convenient tools could turn out to be real life savers.

*Additional source articles: Health.good.is, Consumerist.com, CNN.com, ScienceDaily.com

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Unlike melanoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) (SQUAY-muss) is a fairly-common type of skin cancer that is not typically fatal. Just like melanoma though, if it’s left undiagnosed, it too can turn lethal.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma can originate in any of the body’s numerous squamous cells. You may not be too surprised to learn that those cells are where this form of skin cancer gets its name. As with many such cancers, its primary cause is overexposure of unprotected skin to the sun’s harmful UV rays.

It can also be developed after tanning bed use. As an aside, there are no words strong enough to sufficiently emphasize the importance of avoiding those beds. This also includes lamps used for things like securing gel nail polish. Any commercial use of artificial UV light is a 100% Risk-0% Reward activity. Any dermatologist will attest that that is not in any way hyperbole.

SCC usually develops on the areas of our skin that are most likely to incur unprotected sun exposure; such as on the scalp, ears, lips and the backs of hands.

How deadly it might become can also be determined by the area on which it begins. The mortality rate climbs when it’s located on the lips, in the mouth, over the carotid artery, or on skin covering internal organs such as the lungs.

As with melanoma, SCC can present with a variety of appearances. However, what it looks like most often is a slightly raised red patch that becomes rough, dry and scaly.

Presented below are two pictures. On the left is an example of SCC. The picture to its right depicts Actinic Keratosis, which we’ll discuss shortly:

 

 

 

 

SCC is generally a slow-growing skin cancer; except when it initiates on the lips or in body parts containing mucous membranes.

Here is a photo of SCC developing on lips:

 

 

 

 

 

Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis (AK) is a pre-cancerous lesion that takes decades to fully develop and rarely progresses to SCC. You’ve likely seen it many times on the middle-aged and, more particularly, the elderly.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, AK, too, is caused by UV ray exposure.

Of course, these lesser-afflictions also serve to highlight just how many different forms of skin damage our sun can- and does -inflict upon us.

Currently there are multiple effective non-surgical treatment options for treating AK and early stage SCC. Among the most common of these is freezing them off.

One terrific way to avoid dealing with SCC, AK and every other skin cancer you’ve read about on our previous blogs, is to simply not get them to begin with. Protect your skin; protect your life.

*Additional source articles: Mayoclinic.org, Mayoclinic.org

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Skin Cancer Education Re-imagined

The Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) has been making great strides throughout the United States with its middle and high school-focused skin cancer lessons. Our most recent figures show that they’re used in over 1,700 different schools; spread out over every U.S. state but one. We would very much like to keep that ball rolling. (A link to a list of those schools, as well as to actual teacher testimonials, are both provided below)

If you’re a pre-teen or adolescent health and wellness educator, we encourage you to review and present these highly-informative lessons to your classes. They are designed to be efficient, easy-to-use, and require virtually no prep work. Even better, they fit entirely into a single class period with plenty of time to spare.

Registration is easy and completely free. To do so, simply click right HERE and you’ll be directed to our melanomaeducation.net website. Both the short student and teacher-training videos you’ll receive post-registration access to have won the prestigious Gold Triangle Award from the American Academy of Dermatology. (AAD)

Now let’s go a little more in-depth into why these lessons are so valuable to both you and your students. Teacher surveys taken after in-class presentations of the MEF lessons reveal that due directly to them, many early melanomas were discovered by students, teachers and family members.

That is crucial, as in its earliest stages melanoma has a cure rate of nearly 100%. The more time that passes between its development and diagnosis, however, allows for the continual increase of the odds that it will become fatal.

The MEF high school lesson is currently the only one that specifically addresses nodular melanoma. Melanoma is the worst form of skin cancer, and nodular is the most lethal type of melanoma. Even worse, teenagers are particularly vulnerable to nodular, which unfortunately doesn’t typically show any of skin cancer’s familiar ABCDE signs. (A= Asymmetry, B= Border, C= Color, D= Diameter, E= Evolving)

MEF also differs from other skin cancer lessons by providing more comprehensive information, which in turn leads to more effective results. Most non-MEF lessons continue to direct their primary focus on sun-safety. They do this despite the plentiful data garnered from numerous studies that show emphasizing sun-safety has little-to-no effect on altering teen behavior patterns. In other words, teens essentially ignore it.

This approach also prevents teenagers from learning the critical fact that 30% of melanomas are not even caused by UV ray exposure. Among other risks, not having that knowledge may cause students who aren’t into tanning to skip regular skin-self exams; thinking they need not bother.

To all the health educators within sight of these words, please consider employing our lessons. The more schools that incorporate their usage, the more young lives we can all save together.

Please click to view a variety of teacher testimonials

Please click to view the list of schools using the MEF skin cancer lessons

To visit our websites, please click: skincheck.org and/or melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Test Your Melanoma Knowledge

We’ve taken a slightly different approach with today’s blog post than what you have (and will) usually see from us; but it’ll be fun and educational.

We have prepared for you a brief, visual quiz. It’s specifically designed to demonstrate that judging a skin growth on its looks alone is simply not enough. It’s vital to regularly keep tabs on every inch of your skin, and be wary of any changes to new or existing moles that have been progressing for more than two weeks. And that’s regardless of its appearance.

Presenting the Quiz

Below, you’ll see a photo containing six numbered images of various skin growths. Three of them are benign (non-cancerous) and three are melanomas (very cancerous).

Please choose which three you believe to be the melanomas. At the very end of this post you’ll be able to view the answer key, along with the name and a description for all six images. Good luck!

The Images:

1                     2                       3

 

 

 

 

4                       5                      6

Regardless of your score, (which you’ll learn shortly) please remember what’s most important is that you’ve just helped educate yourself about melanoma! You now have information that could possibly one day help to save a life.

We very much encourage you to share this quiz with your friends, family and social media followers.

So, how did you do on our quiz? Numbers 3, 4 and 6 were the melanomas.

Here is some information about all six photos:

Their Descriptions:

  1. Lentigo. (Benign) Better known as age or liver spots, they are very common on older individuals who’ve had excessive sun-exposure.
  2. Raised mole. (Benign)
  3. Melanoma. (Malignant)
  4. Melanoma. (Malignant) Although it appears to be a normal mole, during his annual dermatology exam this patient asked his dermatologist about it and was told it was ordinary and benign. After explaining that it had been steadily increasing in size over a period of months, he requested it be excised and biopsied, anyway. The pathology report returned with a diagnosis of early melanoma. It’s for reasons like this that performing a regular self-skin exam is crucial. Regardless of a dermatologist’s ruling, patients who still have doubts, or who are left unsatisfied, must advocate on behalf of their own good health.
  5. Blue Nevus. (Benign) It carries no more risk of becoming a melanoma than any other mole does.
  6. Amelanotic (flesh colored) Nodular Melanoma. (Malignant)

*To visit our websites, please click: skincheck.org and/or melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

What to do if a Suspicious Growth is Found During a Skin Self-exam

One of the major tenets essential to melanoma education is for everyone to perform regular skin self-examinations. All it entails is a few minutes once a month during which you simply check over your skin from head to toe. (And palms to soles).

No surface area of the body, nor inside the mouth, is to be excluded. A close friend, loved one or doctor can check the places you can’t; such as the back, scalp, neck, and inside and around both ears. (For information regarding the two types of melanoma, radial and nodular, please click HERE).

If your completed skin self-exam reveals nothing unusual, that’s excellent. However, if a suspicious new mole, or changes to a pre-existing one is discovered, the time to act is right away.

My Self-exam has Revealed a Suspicious Mole. What do I do?

It’s likely that your first instinct would, understandably, be to contact your general practitioner. However, call a dermatologist instead. Most family doctors receive minimal, if any, dermatological training while attending medical school. This leads to melanomas being missed or misdiagnosed in their earliest stages, which is the most crucial time to confirm them.

Some insurance companies require a referral from your primary care physician. If yours is among them, request that he or she quickly provide you with one.

What if There is a Long Wait for a Dermatologist Appointment?

If you encounter the hurdle of a weeks, or even months-long wait before a dermatologist can see you, you still have multiple choices. Contact the office and explain that the skin growth you’ve discovered resembles a melanoma, and that you don’t want to wait. You can also ask them to call you first if a previously scheduled patient cancels an appointment.

If you’re unsatisfied with what the dermatologist’s offices tells you, make an appointment with a plastic or general surgeon. Their qualifications to excise new melanomas are equal to those of dermatologists. You can often get in to see them sooner, too.

The one option to absolutely avoid is to make a distant appointment, and then just wait around for it. In the financial world, the old saying is time is money. In the world of melanoma, it’s time is mortality.

The procedure to remove an early melanoma isn’t difficult or time consuming. In fact, if it is a melanoma that has been caught soon enough, its quick removal is often the cure itself. And once the growth has been excised, be sure to instruct the surgeon or dermatologist to have a dermapathologist (rather than a general pathologist) perform the biopsy. He or she will have greater training and experience with distinguishing the subtle nuances that often occur between a benign mole and actual skin cancer.

In the 18 years since the Melanoma Education Foundation was created, no one within the organization has ever encountered a single person who has ever regretted the removal of a suspicious skin growth.

So please, don’t be shy and do be persistent. Remember, it may very well be nothing. But if it is melanoma any delay in diagnosis will increasingly begin to put your life at risk.

*Additional source: Skincheck.org(Page 5)

To visit our websites, please click: skincheck.org and/or melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

SPF is Far Less Important than How Much is Applied

Anyone with even the most basic awareness of skin cancer is likely to know that the Golden Rule of practicing sun-safety is to wear sunscreen. The only better protection from the sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays is to sit inside your home with all the window shades drawn.

Unfortunately, though, there is a key piece of information regarding sunscreen of which far too many people are unaware.

Get the Maximum SPF Out of Your Sunscreen

First, if you’re a regular sunscreen user- excellent job. However, it’s equally important to apply the correct amount. This is the only way to ensure that the sun protection factor (SPF) sun-shield that you’re actually receiving is identical to what is stated on the product.

Many of us, albeit unwittingly, fall into that category. The typical wearer applies a mere 25% of what’s required to achieve a sunscreen’s full safety potential. And while 75% off may be fantastic for department store sales; it is disastrous to our skin. To illustrate further, when 25% of an SPF 100 rated sunscreen is applied, the true SPF isn’t 25- it’s only 3.2.

Anyone who spends even a brief time reading up on skin cancer and melanoma, will inevitably come across a few of the same specific comparisons used in a wide variety of materials. The one relevant to this post is that the minimum volume of sunscreen to use for each application would be enough to fill a shot glass. It’s also important that it be evenly distributed across any exposed skin, and be re-applied at a maximum of two hours. Even sooner than that if you’ve been sweating or swimming.

Speaking of the latter, spending a day at a beach or pool wearing only a swimsuit is not a good idea. However, anyone who does should use up an entire a 6-ounce container of sunscreen on him or herself by the time they leave. Do you use that much or know anyone who does?

The main point is important to reiterate: you must apply sunscreen much more heavily than that of most users to achieve the rated SPF.

Don’t just get your money’s worth of SPF; get your skin’s good health worth.

*Additional sources: Vitals.lifehacker.com, Onlinelibrary.wiley.com

*To visit our websites, please click: skincheck.org and/or melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma