When trying to educate adolescents and teens about skin cancer, it’s very important that the information presented is not only correct, but also properly focused. Words that fall on primarily deaf ears are useless; rendering the material ineffective.
How do We Know?
The Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) was founded by its president Stephen Fine in 1999, one year after his 26-year old son Daniel tragically passed away from the disease. From that day to this, Steve and the MEF have studied the most beneficial ways to get teens to absorb critical information on melanoma.
We learned long ago that concentrating on education is more impactful than research. Catching skin cancer early or preventing it before it has a chance to get started is preferable to trying to cure it long after it develops.
An excellent way to achieve that goal is give middle and high school health educators free, simple access to accurate, easily teachable information. To that end, we’ve created melanoma lessons for teachers to present to their students.
The attention span of teens has never been shorter, and few have the patience to listen intently to a long-winded monologue on a disease. That’s why it’s vital to speak to them in their own language, and make the lessons brief and easily digestible.
Our lessons were created based on the data gathered from teen focus groups. Our videos feature teens talking about their firsthand experiences directly to other teens. The MEF’s free The Melanoma Lessons are being taught in over 1,700 schools all across the United States. We know how much they’re working, too.
We’ve received hundreds of accounts and positive survey responses of melanoma being stopped dead in its tracks due to our lessons. And not only in the students themselves, but within their families. Some health educators have even saved their own lives by virtue of having information on melanoma about which they were previously unaware.
Why Are Our Melanoma Lessons More Effective than Others?
There are multiple reasons why our lessons are so successful.
- Extensive research has revealed that sun safety-based skin cancer lessons are unsuccessful in getting teens to change their behaviors toward UV (ultraviolet) ray exposure.
- Other teen skin cancer and video textbook lessons provide inadequate information on melanoma in general and none on nodular, the most lethal form of melanoma that disproportionately strikes teens, pre-teens and adolescents.
- Most skin cancer lessons overstate the importance of SPF (Sun Protection Factor), which is much less important than how much sunscreen is applied. More than 99% of sunscreen users apply far too little to achieve rated SPF values.
To Both Teachers and Parents
If you’re a teacher, do your skin cancer lessons (if any are even on the itinerary) address these issues?
If you’re a parent, are you aware of what, if anything, your teens are being taught about melanoma in school?
If the answers are “no”, we invite you to take just a few brief moments to view this award-winning, 3-minute long introductory video.
After watching the video, teachers may register to access the completely free teen melanoma lessons that have been described as the most effective on the planet.
For Steve it’s personal, and he has worked nonstop to do everything possible to spare people from the pain he and so many others have endured at the hands of this horrific and unnecessary scourge. Please, help us to help you.All Skin Cancer Lessons are not Created Equal
Over the 18 years since the Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) was founded, we’ve learned that the success of sun safety instruction varies, depending on the age of the students.
Sun safety education has a much greater effect on elementary school students than it does on teens who attend junior high and high school.
Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recently conducted a study on this topic. They researched the difference between elementary and middle school students in Framingham, Massachusetts. They discovered a 50% reduction in the use of sunscreen use by the middle schoolers in comparison with that of the elementary school students.
Despite significantly increasing the amount of sun safety instruction taught in classrooms, we’re frequently informed by secondary school health teachers that their students aren’t taking heed of the information presented to them. They ignore the dangers of skin exposure to UV rays, and continue to tan either naturally or through tanning beds.
The sun’s harmful UV rays are directly responsible for 70% of melanomas and 95% of other skin cancers. In light of these alarming statistics, the question remains why would teens continually disregard sun safety lessons designed to keep them safe and healthy?
We think that the way the information is being presented is improperly balanced. Sun safety is overemphasized at the expense of sufficiently educating students about the consequences of overexposure to UV rays.
MEF lessons do include sun safety information of course, but they start by focusing the students’ attention on melanoma itself; what it really is, what it does and how it does it. This is tremendously important, because melanoma is the skin cancer most likely to affect them all the way from infancy into adulthood.
Our lessons start with providing key information about melanoma.
- That teens are susceptible to melanoma right now
- How melanoma develops and spreads to other parts of the body
- Its risk factors and warning signs
- How (and how often) to self-examine their skin for early signs of the disease
- How easy melanoma is to cure if it’s found early- and how lethal it is if found too late
The second part of the lessons focus on the role that UV radiation plays in causing melanoma, and how to reduce the risks from it.
It’s important that the lesson topics are presented in the correct order: melanoma first, sun safety second. To a teen sitting in a classroom, a sun safety talk may sound very much like a parental lecture on brushing their teeth or washing their hands. In other words, just the sort of white noise they’d be likely to tune out.
However, when melanoma is explained to teens; when right off the bat they’re informed (and, also importantly, shown) just how much damage this disease can inflict, they are much more likely to take sun safety seriously and give it the respect it commands.
A teacher survey that we recently conducted regarding the impact of MEF’s lessons yielded some very positive results. Among them:
- 73% of teachers reported that students made appointments to get moles checked after receiving the lessons
- 14.8% of teachers were told by students that early melanomas were found because of the lessons
- 34% of teachers said students found precancerous moles because of the lessons
- After the lessons, 95% of teachers reported students said they would use more sunscreen, and 81% reported students said they would stop using tanning beds
That is very encouraging data. Our previous blog post on this specific survey provides additional positive results regarding the impact of the lessons on teachers and their families. For more details about the survey, read Teacher Survey Confirms Effectiveness of Melanoma Lessons.
Sun Safety-Based Lessons are Ineffective for Educating Teens About Skin Cancer
*Information source articles: MEF Fall 2017 Newsletter Article, Prospective Study of Sunburn and Sun Behavior Patterns During Adolescence, Pediatrics. Feb 2012; 129(2): 309–317, Sun-protective behaviors in populations at high risk for skin cancer, Psychology Research and Behavior Management, December 20, 2013, Indoor Tanning Is Not Safe, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Updated January 24, 2017, Melanoma Knowledge and Sun Protection Attitudes and Behaviors Among College Students by Gender and Skin Type, American Journal of Health Education, Sept/Oct 2005, Vol 36, No. 5
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. Both the short student and teacher-training videos 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.
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
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.
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