For the past few years I have become more and more convinced that the burden of many diseases can decrease simply through prevention and early detection. This came through my involvement in UC Irvine’s Spot a Spot program, which is the main educational component of the National Melanoma Awareness Project. At its inception in 2003, this project was known as the Joel Myers Awareness Project in memory of young UC Irvine medical student who died from melanoma. Since that time, the “Spot a Spot. Save a life” curriculum has been extended to across the country and taught 14,695 students from 2009-2010, which adds to nearly 50,000 students taught since 2003.
Some of the projects have included teaching middle school and high school students, junior life guards, and my personal favorite, going to Paul Mitchell School of Hair Design to teach young hair stylists how to spot a melanoma on their clients’ heads. The truth is when was the last time we checked our head for a melanoma?
Malignant melanoma is the second most common cancer seen in the adolescent and young adult population in the United States and accounts for 11% of all malignant cancers seen in this age group (age 15-39). I will not go through all the statistics, just check out the Skin Cancer Foundation for solid facts.
What I do what to stress is that earlier detection, combined with improved treatment options, results in greatly improved survival outcomes. In fact, melanoma in 10- to 39-year olds is highly curable with 5-year survival rates exceeding 90%.
My motivation to write a quick blog post on this subject came as a result of an article in Vanity Fair on the Environmental Working Group’s recent study on sunscreen. The article quotes “almost half of the 500 most popular sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer because they contain vitamin A or its derivatives.”
To add fuel to the fire, researchers from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and Masonic Cancer Center claim that there is a link between use of indoor tanning devices to increased risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. However, the data is now being challenged by the Sunbed Association which outlines their claims in a recent press release.
Yet through all this controversy, there are two simple ways which you can early detect melanoma: the ABCDEs of Melanoma and the Ugly Duckling.
ABCDEs of Melanoma
Consult your dermatologist immediately if any of your moles or pigmented spots exhibit:
- One half is unlike the other half.
- An irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
- Is varied from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown, or black; is sometimes white, red, or blue.
Melanomas usually are greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.
A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.
(American Academy of Dermatology)
I personally think both methods are great tools for early detecting melanoma. However, to the untrained eye, the Ugly Duckling method has been tested to have been a useful tool as a sign for melanoma screening (Arch Dermatol. 2008;144(1):58-64).
As much as we are told to stay out of the sun, wear protective clothing, or even use sun screen, your biggest tool in the fight against cancer is to early detecting melanoma by “knowing your skin.” (Dr. Leonard Sender)
*tshirt designed by Marc Jacobs to raise awareness about the deadly skin cancer and benefit melanoma research at the NYU Cancer Institute at NYU Langone Medical Center.
| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |