Intermittent Sun Exposure and Melanoma Risk

Our efforts to increase melanoma education often include clearing up various misconceptions about the disease. Those who’ve never been taught much about skin cancer tend to make incorrect assumptions about it.

One of these beliefs is that melanoma incidence is highest in southern states, and among people who consistently spend time out in the sun. While it is true that skin cancer impacts both, it’s not the whole truth.

The sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays can be just as dangerous, if not even more so, to northern U.S. residents as they are to those who live in the south. And with reason.

There is a scientific hypothesis that those who inhabitant northern and central states are more prone to developing melanoma than people living in sunbelt states, due to intermittent sun exposure.

Scientists believe that the populations of sunbelt states can become more acclimated to UV rays because their skin is more likely to be exposed to them year-round. Non-medically, it’s similar to the way an auto mechanic at some point builds up a tolerance to the smell of gasoline.

Some examples of intermittent (sporadic, occasional) sun exposure include:

  • Spending much of the winter months indoors, then exposing skin to strong sunlight during the summer months
  • Spending the entire workweek indoors, and then full weekends outdoors
  • Northern and U.S. state residents vacationing in tropical or semitropical locations like Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean, or other areas where UV rays are particularly intense

Statistics show that when all ethnic groups are considered only one sunbelt state, Georgia, ranks within the Top 10 states for melanoma occurrences. And when only non-Hispanic Caucasians are included, only two states make that Top 10 list: Georgia again, and Hawaii.

This chart shows the Top 10 melanoma state rankings:

 

 

 

 

 

Source: https://nccd.cdc.gov/uscs/cancersrankedbystate.aspx

The skin cancers that are less serious than melanoma (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) are more prevalent in sunbelt states.

It’s important to note that this information doesn’t mean that southerners shouldn’t continue to take sun-safety precautions; they certainly should. It means that northerners should remind themselves that the cold is no shelter from melanoma.

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

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Moles and Sun: A Dangerous Combination

Benign moles (or nevi) are so common that pretty much every human being on earth has them. In the language of medicine, “benign” means noncancerous. However, exposure to dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays from our sun can create mutations on moles that cause nevi to turn from safely benign, to dangerously malignant (cancerous). UV rays even often promote a common mole’s formation to begin with.

In a report cited within an article posted by the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, researchers in California have discovered a way to determine the direction moles take as they transform from skin lesions (“precursors”) to reaching their fully malignant, potentially fatal, forms.

This easy to remember chart shows the progression to melanoma upon UV exposure:

Normal mole (1 mutation) —-> Atypical mole (several mutations) ——> Melanoma (many mutations).

It was the data gathered by this group of scientists that confirmed the negative impact UV rays have on skin by initiating the growth of moles, as well as turning them cancerous. It also confirmed the existence of “intermediate lesions”, which are lesions whose benign or malignant status is not easily determined. The latter discovery will be greatly beneficial to dermatologists when choosing the treatment for their melanoma patients.

So, what does all of this mean to those of us who are non-medical laypersons? That has been neatly summarized by the words of Dr. Boris Bastian; the report’s senior author:

“A lot of melanomas have been sequenced at this point, and while it’s clear they carry UV-induced mutations, no one knew when they occurred…This study shows that they occur in benign moles, in the melanoma that arises from these moles, and in intermediate lesions. UV both initiates and causes the progression of melanoma, so exposing even benign moles to the sun is dangerous.”

Just because a mole is benign doesn’t mean it will stay that way. It’s very important to always take the appropriate skin protection precautions whenever we’re exposed to the sun.

*Additional information sources: University of California San Francisco, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

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

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Indirectly Speaking: The Impact of Secondary UV Exposure

Even among those who make a concerted effort to practice sun-safety, there remains a tendency to forget about the impact that secondary, or indirect, sun exposure has on our skin.

If there’s a choice to stand in the sun or in the shade, certainly the latter is preferred. But shade alone isn’t nearly enough to keep us adequately protected from harmful UV rays. Also, the amount of protection shade provides can vary substantially based upon factors such as the object(s) providing it, your location, time of day and the environment around you.

The singular point to remember most is that it’s still very possible for us to incur significant sun skin damage- even while fully in the shade.

There are multiple scenarios within which we may not realize the actual amount of UV rays to which we’re being subjected.

With that in mind, we would like to focus on three important types of indirect sun exposure; Reflected, Scattered and Diffuse.

Reflected

Reflected is pretty much just what it sounds like. UV rays reflect off many things such as sand, snow, concrete, water, asphalt, ice and light surfaces; among others. So even if you’re sitting or standing under an umbrella (or parasol), or a tree(s), et cetera, your skin is still absorbing the rays being reflected onto it.

Scattered

UVB rays emanate from our sun, and then once they’re within our atmosphere they can be “scattered” throughout the sky at a higher volume than we realize. If you are outside in a shaded area but can see blue sky, you are receiving scattered UV radiation.

Diffuse

Many people have the misconception that if it’s cloudy, hazy or overcast outside, they have a natural protection from sun exposure. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. And thinking that it is can lead to severe skin damage. The truth is that hazy sunlight may expose your skin to even more UV radiation than sunlight on a clear day.

Myth-cellaneous

Within this article we’ve shed some light (no pun intended) on a few of the biggest myths that people believe about skin damage; such as that you cannot get sunburned in the shade or in the haze.

However, to highlight those points, here are four pictures of common scenes at which one would be impacted by indirect sun exposure when you are in shade:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please keep in mind that even if we’re unaware, the sun’s harmful rays will always be there. 

*Additional information sources: Sunsaferx.com, Abc.net.au, Skincancer.org

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

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

Mole Mapping

If you have high skin cancer risk factors, or those who have over 50 moles, or too many moles to easily track yourself, mole mapping is a useful tool. Even better, the procedure is non-invasive and completely painless.

How Does Mole Mapping Work?

A dermatologist will take pictures and images of his or her patients that encompass the outer layer of skin. Once completed the records are archived. They’re then used later to check against future images and monitor any newly-developed moles; along with any changes to pre-existing ones.

This photograph depicts a patient undergoing mole mapping with her dermatologist:

It’s Not a Catchall

Research into mole mapping has revealed that it does increase the chances that dermatologists will discover early melanomas. (In one study, the odds increased by 17%).*

However, mole mapping should be used to augment, not replace, a person’s skin health care behaviors; as it has its limits. For instance, melanoma can develop on the scalp, which for most people is covered with hair that the cameras can’t see through. It can still miss cancerous moles, and there is always the possibility that a melanoma will develop and spread quickly during the time-gap between office visits.

For those reasons, it’s also important to perform monthly skin self-examinations, so any oddities can be brought swiftly to the attention of a dermatologist.

Working in tandem, skin self-exams and mole mapping will provide an even greater chance of catching and stopping a melanoma before it’s too late.

How do I Locate Dermatologists Who Provide Mole Mapping?

If you or someone you know is interested in mole mapping and would like to find local offices that perform it, start by running an internet search for “mole mapping services, ZZ”. When you do, simply replace the “ZZ” with your state’s postal abbreviation. (For example, Wyoming = WY, Minnesota = MN, etc.)

*Additional information sources: News-medical.net/health/Mole-Mapping.aspx (Catherine Shaffer, M.Sc.)

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

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

SPF: Fact versus Fiction

Each day, more people learn about the importance of wearing sunscreen whenever they’re outdoors to shield themselves against the sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays. While that news is heartening, getting that information out is only half of the battle.

If a user misunderstands how a sunscreen’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF) works, or if the product is incorrectly applied, the level of protection received can be considerably lower than he or she believes it to be. That can be very dangerous.

Here’s why:

If your mouthwash contained a lesser percentage of cinnamon flavor than you thought it did, it would make absolutely no difference as far as your health is concerned. However, if you walked around every day thinking you were wearing a sunscreen that provided more skin defense than it actually did, that mistaken notion could end up resulting in skin cancer. Or, even worse, the potentially deadly melanoma.

Don’t Get Burned, Either Literally or Figuratively

We’d like to help clear up this confusion. There is a view held by many that, because an SPF 50 sunscreen absorbs 98% of UVB radiation while an SPF 100 sunscreen absorbs 99%, just 1% more, the SPF 100 sunscreen offers hardly any advantage over the SPF 50 sunscreen. That’s a misinterpretation of the facts.

If an SPF 100 sunscreen is correctly applied and continually re-applied every two hours at a minimum, (or immediately after swimming or profuse sweating) it’ll provide adequate skin protection for double the amount of time that a SPF 50 sunscreen will.

But Wait, There’s More!

There are other ways that we inadvertently end up leaving ourselves vulnerable to those dangerous UV rays. We’ll go over a few here.

It’s the rare person who applies an amount of sunscreen sufficient enough to reach the SPF level touted by the product. And, whether they do or not, most don’t re-apply it as needed- if they even re-apply it at all.

Every time you use sunscreen, the goal should be to cover every sun-exposed inch of skin. If you’re in a swimsuit, the necessary quantity is enough to fill a shot glass. In fact, instead of guessing, consider simply using an actual shot glass.

Unfortunately, independent studies have shown that an alarming number of sunscreen brands don’t meet the SPF ratings that their packages trumpet. It’s important to do a little online research on your favorite brand to see if the claimed SPF is accurate.

Finally, it bears repeating. You’ve probably heard that famous real estate slogan, it’s all about location, location, location! With sunscreen, think re-application, re-application, re-application! If you’re going to be spending time outdoors, re-application is as important as applying sunscreen is to begin with.

*Additional source: Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) Fall 2016 Newsletter

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

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

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

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