There is no ineffective way to relay (accurate) information about melanoma, as discussing it with even one other person has the potential to save a life. But today’s world is a much different place than it was only a few years ago.
Now, several highly-effective ways exist with which to reach out and educate countess people instantaneously. This blog post focuses on four specific methods to get the message on melanoma out to a wide audience.
Virtual community service volunteer opportunities exist in abundance. Both teens and adults alike can provide a great service to their communities from anywhere, at any time, with nothing more than access to a computer and Microsoft Excel. All it takes is a few hours a week. To see a current list of available opportunities, simply click on this link to our VolunteerMatch.org page.
The Power of Social Media
Nothing has ever shrunk the world like social media. What once took days, weeks or even months to communicate can now reach its intended recipient(s) in mere seconds- 24/7/365. It gives health-awareness organizations an immensely powerful tool we’ve never had before.
We encourage you to view, share and refer your contacts to SkinCheck.org, a website with the most comprehensive, user-friendly information on early self-detection and prevention of melanoma ever created. You have the ability to save untold lives with the simple click of a button.
See “Spot Save”
Our “See Spot” document is a wealth of skin cancer information presented in an easy-to-read format on just one page. It includes relevant photos and is applicable to teens and adults. You can access it by clicking here, then share the link with family and friends through your email and social media accounts.
If you’re a parent, ask your middle and high school children whether they’ve received our lessons on melanoma. Teachers have confirmed to us that many students have saved their own lives by finding early melanomas, along with other skin cancers, due to learning through our lessons. They’ve also saved the lives of friends and family members simply by sharing the “See Spot” document above with them. The lessons have even saved the lives of health educators themselves.
If your child hasn’t received one of our lessons in class, please contact his or her principal and/or health teacher, and request that it be presented.
Don’t take no for an answer!
Words have tremendous power. And if you’re successful, we will both be left with the satisfaction of knowing that your conversation or email may have saved countless lives.
Not too shabby of a return on our mutual investments.Four Ways to Save Lives from Melanoma
Most people wouldn’t even think of driving their cars without first buckling their seat-belts, and with good reason. They’re an excellent precaution to take and continue to save countless lives. But wearing seat-belts isn’t the only thing we need to do to protect ourselves while on the roads.
What’s Out of Sight, Still Keep in Mind
We see daily reminders, in the form of accidents, of why following the traffic laws is so important to our safety. But we don’t see UV (ultraviolet) rays. Unprotected exposure to UV rays while driving can cause skin damage and melanoma, which can eventually lead to the same unfortunate result as a fatal car wreck. Just not quite as quickly.
Thanks to the added plastic layer that keeps them from shattering, windshields offer protection against the effects of UVA and UVB rays. Unfortunately, aside from higher-end vehicles such as those built by Lexus and Mercedes, that’s not the case with rear and side windows. They block UVB rays, but still allow enough UVA rays in to damage our skin. And while window tints are useful at helping to preserve a driver’s anonymity, they’re useless at increasing UVA protection.
Sunshine on Your Shoulder Won’t Make You Happy
With apologies to the late John Denver, the sunlight that penetrates insufficiently-protected car windows can do real damage to the skin of an exposed shoulder. And more frequently to the left side of a driver’s face, as it’s rarely (if ever) covered up.
Glass is Now in Session
Researchers have learned that, while both genders are affected by skin cancers and melanomas on the left side of their faces, the occurrences are more frequent in male drivers. This may in part be due to women being more attentive to their faces regarding sunscreen and sunscreen-infused cosmetics.
A simple Google or Amazon search will yield numerous low-cost plastic UVA-blocking films that can easily be installed on either car or home window glass. Purchasing both types will provide optimum protection.
Now See Here
Nearly all plastic lenses within prescription eyeglasses protect completely against both UVB and UVA rays. The UV coatings often pitched by opticians are unnecessary. The only exception is CR39 lenses. They’ll protect you against UVA rays, but still allow 10% transmission of UVB. Adding clip-on sunglasses over prescription glasses with plastic lenses won’t offer you any significant UVA protection. However, wrap-around sunglasses will protect more skin around your eyes.
An Awesome Spectacle
There is no reason to empty your wallet on a high-cost pair of protective shades. Any non-prescription plastic-lens sunglasses labelled either “100% UV Protective” or “UV 400”, will provide you with complete protection against both UVB and UVA rays.
You can find a good variety of these sunglasses for as little as one buck at any dollar store, or $5-$10 at most discount “Big Box” retailers. You’ll look great while keeping your eyes safe. And if you lose the pair you can easily replace them for pocket change.
The Greenhouse Effect
If you plan on building a greenhouse on your property, choose clear polyethylene sheeting instead of glass. The former contains UV absorbing additives that will protect all occupants against both UVA and UVB rays.
Due to Australia’s very high prevalence of skin cancer, that country’s medical scientists are well-motivated to search for new information and improved treatments on and for the disease. One example of this are reports out of Queensland revealing “that freckles and moles appearing on the iris indicate a high risk of melanoma, particularly in people under 40 years of age.” *
Also, that “…the presence of three or more iris pigmented lesions was associated with a 45 percent increased risk of melanoma.”
The Eyes Have it
Eye freckles are melanoma indicators that go beyond the others, such as skin/eye/hair color. Fortunately, unlike the less visible areas on our bodies, almost all of us look right at our own eyes every day. If you don’t already, going forward it would be wise to take a moment each month to study your iris while shaving, brushing your teeth, etc. Even better, just incorporate it into your brief, monthly skin self-exams.
This photo is an example of what you should be looking for when you do:
A See of Difference
To avoid any confusion, it’s important to remember that eye freckles are not the same thing as Ocular Melanoma. The former is a risk factor for the melanoma most commonly found on the skin. The latter is an actual cancer within the eye, and one of the few melanomas that are not believed to be caused by UV (ultraviolet) ray exposure.
Travelling at the Speed of Sight
Once melanoma works itself beyond the skin, it can travel anywhere within the body via the bloodstream and/or lymphstream. When that occurs, it will inevitably attack another organ(s) and/or lymph node(s). That will then drastically reduce a patient’s chance for survival.
However, melanoma has one large flaw and it’s our greatest ally in the battle against it- it announces its arrival while there’s still time to vanquish it. All we have to do (in the majority of cases) is watch out for any new abnormal moles and skin growths- or changes to old ones -and then quickly have any that are found examined by a dermatologist.
Most people walking along a train track would step off it if they saw a train coming at them. Spotting but then ignoring a melanoma is like seeing that train, and then watching it as it runs right through, and destroys, your body. Make no mistake, in time melanoma will do to the inside of a body what a train would do to its outside.
A Look into the Future
Remember, the eyes may be the windows to the soul, but they are also windows into early melanoma detection. And if caught early enough, melanoma has a cure rate of nearly 100%.
When educating people about melanoma, the fact that is stressed the most (equally alongside the importance of monthly skin self-examinations) is how crucial it is to have skin cancer quickly diagnosed and treated.
But what happens when you discover a suspicious skin growth and wisely go to have it checked out—only to learn that you can’t get a dermatologist appointment for an unacceptable length of time?
Above all else, the one thing that you’d never do is shrug your shoulders, take an “oh well, I tried” attitude, and then drop the matter. That could be a fatal mistake.
What can I do?
Dermatologist appointments are often scheduled 3 or more months in advance. That’s too long to wait if you’ve found something suspicious on your skin. However, before trying to expedite an appointment, be sure to check the photos and information on skincheck.org. Don’t “cry wolf”.
Once done, contact a (or your own) dermatologist, explain your concern, and state that you’ll accept any time slot opening they may have available to you. Also, ask if you can be called first in the event that another patient cancels a previously scheduled appointment. If you are successful at securing a quick appointment, don’t expect a complete skin exam. Generally, in these instances a dermatologist will focus solely on the source of your concern.
What can I do if I Still Can’t Get a Fast Appointment?
If you’ve done everything discussed above but still can’t get a fast appointment, (no longer than within 1 week) there are other avenues to pursue. You can:
- Contact the office of a board-certified general surgeon or plastic surgeon. They are fully trained in excising moles and early melanomas. They’re also typically available sooner for appointments than dermatologists are.
- Contact the dermatology department of a large hospital and make an appointment. You can often meet with a dermatologist without a referral; though your insurance company may require one before they’ll cover the cost of your visit. You will not be turned away regardless of your financial situation.
- Contact the American Academy of Dermatology (888-462-3376). or conduct an online search at Find a Dermatologist for information about dermatologists in your area.
With some exceptions, referrals are not usually difficult to obtain. If your physician does deny you one, either find another doctor or go get checked out anyway. General practitioners don’t have the extensive training and experience with skin cancer that dermatologists do. Unfortunately, this inexperience has led to numerous unnecessary melanoma deaths.
The bottom line is that these are merely petty obstacles that pale in comparison to the ultimately horrible end-result of an undiagnosed, untreated melanoma. Money and medical red tape should be no deterrents to protecting your health, and potentially saving your own life.Expediting a Dermatologist Appointment
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)
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.
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