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 mutations…the 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.
Redheads and Melanoma
*Additional information source citation: Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) newsletter (Spring 2015)
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!
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:
- Lentigo. (Benign) Better known as age or liver spots, they are very common on older individuals who’ve had excessive sun-exposure.
- Raised mole. (Benign)
- Melanoma. (Malignant)
- 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.
- Blue Nevus. (Benign) It carries no more risk of becoming a melanoma than any other mole does.
- Amelanotic (flesh colored) Nodular Melanoma. (Malignant)
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, read our blog post Radial and Nodular Melanoma.)
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.
What to do if a Suspicious Growth is Found During a Skin Self-exam
*Additional source: Skincheck.org (Page 5)
One of the most important tasks we face in helping to spread melanoma awareness and education, is to relieve people of the notion that the disease only impacts Caucasians and other pale-toned ethnicities. That’s simply not true. Melanoma is a color-blind, unbiased menace to people of all ethnic backgrounds. With that in mind, the focus of today’s topic will be Acral Lentiginous Melanoma (ALM).
ALM is a symptom-free branch of melanoma that is most common in blacks, Hispanics and Asians; but also affects whites and other light-skinned races. (Two related forms of ALM are Subungual Melanoma and Mucosal Melanoma. The former develops underneath finger and toenails, while the latter presents on mucous membranes). Interestingly, unlike most other melanomas, the onset of ALM is not connected to exposure to the sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays.
Where does Acral Lentiginous Melanoma Develop?
ALM originates mostly on the palms of our hands, the soles of our feet or, as mentioned earlier, beneath our nails. In words, its appearance is best described by the following direct quote from the Cleveland Clinic’s cited source article linked below:
“Clinically, the lesion is characterized by a tan, brown-to-black, flat macule with color variegation and irregular borders.”
To literally illustrate that statement, please view these photos of ALM and Mucosal Melanoma :
Please note that “Fingernail/Toenail Melanoma” is often mistaken for a minor injury; such as what may occur while participating in athletics, or accidentally hitting your thumb with a hammer. It may also be mistaken for a nail fungus. None of these marks should be disregarded; particularly if you don’t recall incurring an injury or fungus.
One vital thing that ALM does have in common with the more typical melanomas is that it, too, can be easily cured if it’s caught soon enough. If it’s allowed to remain untreated, it will eventually turn fatal.
So please remember, when performing your monthly skin cancer self-examination, be sure to check the bottoms of your feet. As well as between all fingers and toes.
You’re probably already familiar with the saying, looks can be deceiving. Well, that old proverb becomes somewhat more tangible when it’s applied to the subject of melanoma.
What Does Melanoma Look Like?
That question doesn’t really have an easy answer. It’s somewhat akin to being asked to describe a typical Rorschach ink blot.
The truth is that melanomas can appear with a variety of looks. For instance, when several melanoma patients were asked to describe theirs, a wide assortment of answers were given. They can show up in different shapes, colors and textures. They may itch or not; secrete fluids or not. Some even match the color of the skin, while others look like a normal mole.
In fact, some moles that look awful can actually be harmless. And some that look harmless might turn out to be cancerous.
For example, below are some photographs to help illustrate. The one on the left seems to be little more than the result of an injury, or maybe nail fungus. The patient had it checked out and it was indeed melanoma. The photo on the right depicts an unsightly, even frightening-looking skin blemish. Yet, it was totally benign.
So How do I Know Which Skin Changes to Bring to My Doctor’s Attention?
This one’s easy. You don’t try and distinguish whether a skin issue is malignant or benign on your own. You would want to bring any new moles, blemishes or changes to existing moles to the attention of your dermatologist. Let them make the determination.
Out of Sight, but Keep in Mind…
There is no question that the vast majority of melanomas develop, and are easily spotted, on the skin. And most often by the patient first, before his or her doctor does. However, up to 10% of them are initially discovered in one or more of our other organs (skin is the body’s largest organ) or in a lymph node(s); with minimal to no outwardly visible mark or blemish.
There are dermatologists who theorize that these are due to melanomas that were not totally excised. Or “regression”; the belief that some melanoma cells made it into the bloodstream before the body’s natural defenses destroyed the cells that were on the skin. In other words, (non-medical jargon), the patient’s immune system closed the barn door after the horses had gotten out.
The photo below is one example of a melanoma with a “partial regression.”Appearance Limitations in the Self-Detection of Melanoma
Melanoma is truly an awful disease. Whether an afflicted adult ultimately survives an advanced case on not, he or she will suffer significant physical and emotional trauma throughout the entire exhaustive process. Just imagine a child having to experience that. Children, who are just getting started in the world, should never have to suddenly face their own mortality.
Unfortunately, melanoma doesn’t care. And that, along with a greater need for skin cancer awareness and education, is why we continue to lose countless brave pre-teens and adolescents. Among them are the late Jillian Beach, 15 and Bethany Cobb, 11.
It’s our determined mission to do everything possible to help prevent children and their families from having to deal with this; the worst form of skin cancer. With that in mind..
Some Information on Childhood Melanoma
Melanoma can develop on anyone at any age, but there are some differences in the disease between adults and juveniles. To be more specific, we’ll turn to these quotes from the cited Dermnet of New Zealand material linked below:
Regarding children from birth up to age 10
“Superficial spreading melanoma is less common in younger children and melanoma has the ABCDE criteria in 40% of cases. Melanoma in young children is more commonly amelanotic (red coloured), nodular, and tends to be thicker at diagnosis than in older children and adults.” *
It’s also important to remember that melanoma may present itself as pink or flesh-colored. This can be deceiving when looking for darker-toned moles and blemishes on light skin.
Dermnet continues with youths 11 to 18
“Melanoma in older children appears similar to melanoma in adults; it presents as a growing lesion that looks different from the child’s other lesions. Most are pigmented. About 60% have the ABCDE criteria…”*
We want to add that 40% is the rarer, yet more lethal, nodular melanoma. To learn more about that version, please click here.
Once melanoma is diagnosed, its potential treatment is chosen by doctors from the same pool of options used for anyone; regardless of age.
Please note that within the skin cancer community, “ABCDE” is a linguistic device used to help people remember what to look for in moles and other skin blemishes. The letters stand for the following: A= Asymmetry, B= Border, C= Color, D= Diameter, E= Evolving.
We’ve saved perhaps the most important item for last, as that way it’s more likely to be remembered. It’s so vital because everything you’ve read above can be completely avoided- if you just keep this one simple thing in mind:
The cure rate for melanoma detected early enough hovers around 100%.
In those instances, the initial (or follow-up) biopsy, (a quick procedure to remove the impacted tissue performed right in a doctor’s office) is actually the cure itself.
That means there would be no need at all for chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
In the coming weeks, you can expect to read more from us on melanoma right here on this blog. We ask only that you apply what you learn, and spread the information on to others.
It is no understatement to that if you do, you could very easily save a life.
Additional Sources: Dermnet of New Zealand
Self-examination is among the most vital weapons we all have in the fight against melanoma. There is no doubt that the more people the melanoma awareness community can reach with this message, the more lives it can save.
Why is Self-examination So Important?
As that is a fair question, we’ll give you two excellent reasons. The speed at which melanoma is discovered and treated is literally the difference between life and death. If diagnosed early enough, it can be cured quite easily. If too late, it can (and will) spread throughout the body and then painfully attack our other organs until it turns fatal.
Another fact is that patients first discover their melanomas more often than their doctors will. And of course, many of us don’t visit our physicians regularly enough to depend on them to sufficiently monitor our skin.
A Few Notes About Self-examination
The good news is that self-examination is a simple process, and takes only ten minutes or so per month. For those who may need extra motivation, please note that almost every melanoma fatality could have been prevented by early self-detection.
Furthermore, around 30% of melanomas develop onto areas of our skin that are rarely, if ever, introduced to the sun. So even if you do see your doctor on a schedule, he or she likely wouldn’t examine you in some of those areas anyway. Unless you bring it to their attention.
Performing Your Self-examination
There are two main forms of melanoma: Radial and Nodular. Nodular is the less common of the two, but it’s also deadlier. And though rare, our percentage chances of developing it are much higher in our adolescence and teenage years than they are after we reach adulthood. To learn much more about nodular melanoma, please click here.
This is how you search for radials:
On the parts of your skin that you can easily see, (arms, front/sides of legs, between fingers, toes, palms, soles, under finger and toenails) check for any new or existing moles, blemishes and marks with irregular shapes and/or dark colors. Also, note any that turn itchy and/or begin secreting fluids.
Use the combination of a full-length mirror and a hand mirror to check your back, back of legs, ears, armpits, neck and private areas. Employ a hairdryer to move your hair around as you check over your scalp.
Here are a couple of tips to make it even easier than that:
If you have a spouse, significant other or trusted friend, ask him or her to check your back and ears.
Many of us get our hair styled or cut every month or two. If this includes you, excellent. Simply ask your barber or stylist to alert you if he or she comes across any odd marks while performing their task.
For an easy access to this process, just save and print out this diagram:
Gender, Ethnicity and Melanoma
While it’s true that Caucasians and other pale-toned ethnicities are more likely to develop melanoma, it’s equally true that anyone of any age, gender or skin color can develop it, too. In fact, though it’s certainly more common in white people, once it appears it’s more often fatal to African-Americans.
Melanoma can begin anywhere on our bodies. If you’re a Caucasian man or woman, this diagram will show you the percentage breakdown of where it occurs:
If you’re Asian, Hispanic or African-American, it can be most commonly found on your hands, feet, toe and fingernails, and between the toes and fingers themselves. Indeed, legendary singer Bob Marley’s ultimately fatal Melanoma began in his toe.
Self-examining for Early Signs of Melanoma
Please, take just a few minutes out of each month to protect your health.
Skin cancer is the world’s most common cancer, and its worst form is melanoma. Today, we’d like to talk a little bit about the two main types of melanoma: radial and nodular. You wouldn’t want to develop either, as both can end up being just as fatal. However, of the two, nodular is worse.
More often than not, nodular melanoma will present itself on an area of skin that was previously free of blemishes. Less common, but still feasible, is for it to piggyback onto a mole that was already there.
So, what do they look like? To borrow from one of our own two highly-informative websites, they’re often dome-shaped. Also, “The colors of nodular melanomas are usually black, blue-black, dark brown, or brown-red. However, occasionally they are red, pink, grey, flesh-tone, or light to medium brown.”
A primary difference between nodular melanoma and other skin cancers is that it starts under the skin, and as such is harder to detect at its outset. As you’ll read many times to come on this blog, as well as any other material on skin cancer that’s worth its salt, nothing is more vital to potentially curing a melanoma patient than the speed of its discovery and treatment. The last thing anyone would want to do is disregard the initial warning signs of a melanoma that gives itself a head start.
To better assist people with keeping track of what to look for, an easy way has been developed to remember the properties of a nodular melanoma. Simply use the sequential letters EFG: E = Elevated, F = Firm, G = Growing.
Once we reach adulthood, our chance of incurring a nodular melanoma drops to around 20%. However, in our pre-teen and adolescent years, those numbers hover between 40% and 60%. If you’re a parent, we urge you to keep these figures in mind and talk with your child(ren) about the importance of practicing sun-safety.
Radial melanoma presents visibly on the surface of the skin from its very beginning. It spreads slower than the nodular version but, if ignored long enough, it too can- and often does -lead to the same ill-fated result.
Radials are asymmetrical in shape, grow larger than a pencil eraser, and can feature an array of different colors. They may also impact an existing mole. So, it’s important to alert your doctor or dermatologist if you notice a familiar mole begin to get larger, change color, texture, become itchy and/or start secreting fluids.
As radials progress, their hues turn darker. When a melanoma begins to transform on our skin from horizontal to vertical, it’s like turning over an hourglass. Sooner or later, time will run out. Time is of the essence, and monthly self-examinations are paramount.
The reason Melanoma Awareness organizations focus so much on encouraging self-examinations is because most melanomas aren’t discovered first by doctors. They’re discovered by their patients.
Of course, with that said, unless you have a Doctorate of Dermatology hanging on your wall, don’t try to self-diagnose. A skin blemish may look very similar to a picture of melanoma you find online, yet turn out to be nothing at all. Conversely, a new mark that appears normal may be anything but. Please let your doctor make the determination.
To read a melanoma overview that’s been conveniently condensed onto one page, please click here. The more you learn about melanoma, the safer you can make yourself- and anyone else you may be responsible for.
Please help us to help you. Thank you.Radial and Nodular Melanoma
Welcome to the Melanoma Education Foundation’s (MEF) inaugural blog post. In the weeks to come, we’ll be bringing you updates and information relevant to our foundation’s goals; as well as other news that is specific to Melanoma and skin cancer awareness.
With this initial post, however, we’d like to tell you a little about ourselves, our goals, and what to expect going forward. This is so that we may acquaint ourselves with those who are learning about us for the first time through this blog.
Our nonprofit organization was founded by Steve Fine in 1999, the year after his son Daniel tragically succumbed to Melanoma at only 26 years old.
Steve has since never wavered in his ambition to spare adolescents and teenagers from Melanoma; the worst form of skin cancer. If not caught in time, the disease is often fatal. However, if discovered in its earliest stages it can be easily cured. With Melanoma, the time it takes to detect and treat is everything; and is usually the difference between life and death.
From its beginnings, MEF learned that many health educators didn’t realize the vital importance of including information about Melanoma within their curricula. For MEF, the idea is to help teachers inform their students how to find Melanoma quickly, along with the best ways to avoid it entirely.
MEF’s goals are prominently listed on our website, skincheck.org. They are as follows:
- Educate middle and high school health teachers and provides them with free online classroom lessons for their students.
- Provide complete information about early self-detection and prevention of Melanoma in a user-friendly website.
MEF’s popular The Melanoma Lessons are now taught in more than 1,700 schools all over the United States. The single-period lessons focus on early self-detection prevention of melanoma for middle and high school students. They are easy for educators to learn and easy to teach. *
With further regard to our websites; skincheck.org is a comprehensive, powerful, yet easy-to-navigate educational tool for anyone and everyone. While very similar in content, melanomaeducation.net additionally provides health educators with access to student teacher videos and lesson plans.
Both websites are packed with information about Melanoma. Included within them are its causes, prevention techniques, warning signs, statistics, how to check yourself, and much more. You’ll also find numerous relevant photographs and videos.
This blog will serve as an adjunct to our website, and focus more on singular issues each week. The basic facts about Melanoma remain relatively stationary. However, the wheels of medical science are always in motion. As we’ve all seen over the past couple of decades, they’re moving faster now than ever before. And they will move faster still. Using the massive power of social media, our posts will allow us to deliver the news of whatever breakthroughs, upgrades, or even setbacks are on the horizon, to a much larger audience.
We not only welcome you to, but encourage you to share these posts. Our only desire is to see Melanoma swept away forever into the dustbin of history. With your help, there’s no doubt that someday that day will arrive.
Thank you.Introducing the Melanoma Education Foundation’s New Blog