***This was originally posted exactly two years ago, May 3, 2014. Some of the statistics may have changed, but at the time of this posting they were accurate and current.
The month of May is Melanoma Awareness Month. A month to spread the word about the deadliest type of skin cancer and to encourage people to protect their skin. Many people think melanoma is “just” skin cancer….you cut it off and you are good to go. If only it were that easy. 😦
~ One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 57 minutes)
~ Melanoma accounts for less than five percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.
~ Of the seven most common cancers in the US, melanoma is the only one whose incidence is increasing. Between 2000 and 2009, incidence climbed 1.9 percent annually.
~ 1 in 50 men and women will be diagnosed with melanoma during their lifetime.
~ About 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
~ Melanoma is one of only three cancers with an increasing mortality rate for men, along with liver cancer and esophageal cancer.
~ Survivors of melanoma are about nine times as likely as the general population to develop a new melanoma.
~ Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.
~ Melanomas can also form in other parts of your body such as the eyes, mouth, genitals and anal area.
~ A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.
~ One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
~ Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.
~ The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, includes ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices in its Group 1, a list of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances. Group 1 also includes agents such as plutonium, cigarettes, and solar UV radiation.
~ Just one indoor tanning session increases users’ chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another two percent.
~ Of melanoma cases among 18-to-29-year-olds who had tanned indoors, 76 percent were attributable to tanning bed use.
~ People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.
Who is at risk for developing melanoma?
Everyone is at some risk for melanoma, but increased risk depends on several factors. These are sun exposure, number of moles on the skin, skin type and family history (genetics).
Sun Exposure — Both UVA and UVB rays are dangerous to the skin, and can induce skin cancer, including melanoma. Blistering sunburns in early childhood increase risk, but cumulative exposure also is a factor.
Moles — People with many moles are at an increase risk of developing melanoma. People with more than 50 moles are at a greater risk. Some people have irregular and unusual looking moles called atypical moles or dysplastic nevi. This increases the risk of melanoma.
Family History — Any person who has a first-degree relative (mother, father, siblings or children) diagnosed with melanoma has a fifty percent greater chance of developing the melanoma than the person who does not have a family history of melanoma.
Genetic risk — A mutation in the BRAF gene, may play a part in causing melanoma. Mutations in this gene can lead to uncontrolled cell growth and cancer. The mutations most commonly seen in familial melanoma occur in another gene, which is p53.
Personal History — Persons with a history of other type of skin cancer like basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinomas are at increase risk for developing melanoma.
Skin Type — Fairer skin is at increased risk of developing melanoma.
Immune system — Any person with a compromised immune system has an increase chance to develop melanoma. The immune system can be compromised as a result of chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS or organ transplant.
Possible signs and symptoms of melanoma
The most important warning sign for melanoma is a new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color. Another important sign is a spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin (known as the ugly duckling sign). If you have any of these warning signs, have your skin checked by a doctor.
The ABCDE rule is another guide to the usual signs of melanoma. Be on the lookout and tell your doctor about spots that have any of the following features:
A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Some melanomas do not fit the rules described above. It is important to tell your doctor about any changes or new spots on the skin, or growths that look different from the rest of your moles.
Other warning signs are:
A sore that does not heal
Spread of pigment from the border of a spot to surrounding skin
Redness or a new swelling beyond the border
Change in sensation – itchiness, tenderness, or pain
Change in the surface of a mole – scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a bump or nodule
As you can see, there are many ways to help prevent melanoma, as well as many warning signs. Unfortunately for Greg, there were no warning signs. Did he ever get sunburned? Probably a time or two in his life, but nothing significant. Did he ever use a tanning bed? Never. Did he use sunscreen. Yes. Did he spend hours in the sun when we went to the beach? No. He preferred the shade. Did he work outside a lot? Yes, but he wore sunscreen and a hat most times. Did he ever have anything on his skin that was suspicious or questionable? No.
Greg’s diagnosis came from a tiny, pea-sized growth that he felt under his skin on his left trunk area. Who would have thought that it was melanoma? Not the doctor or the surgeon. Certainly not us! After the surgeon removed the “growth”, he came out to the waiting room and told me, “It was just a cyst….no big deal. But we’ll send it to the lab, just to be sure.” Six days later I got the call from the surgeon…it was melanoma. Talk about shock!
So, there’s not always an explanation as to why someone ends up with melanoma. But, if there ARE things that can help reduce the risk of developing this deadly disease….why would you not take those precautions???? Why would you take the chance of going to tanning beds, or spending hours in the sun? Why would you not use sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, etc. when you are out in the sun? Why would you not be aware of any changes in your skin and have regular skin checks? As parents, why would you not do everything in your power to spare your children from this horrible disease?
Prevention and early detection are key!
Trusting His Plan,