Just a few months ago, Vicki, a clerk in our deli department, stopped by my office to say hi. We chatted a bit, exchanged some small talk and she was on her way. As soon as she left, her department manager came by with tears in his eyes and told me that Vicki had just resigned as she only had a few months to live. What? I just spoke to her- she seemed perfectly fine. It turns out Vicki had just learned that she had Stage 4 Melanoma and the doctor told her she would not live to the end of summer. Vicki passed away on Sept. 7, she was 60 years old.
I did some research on melanoma to find out the causes, if it can be prevented, how to check for it, and if it is curable. If you don’t have time to read the entire post and possibly save your life- here is the short takeaway: Examine your body monthly for any moles and skin lesions. If you see anything unusual, get it checked.
From the Melanoma Education Foundation:
Melanoma is a common but serious skin cancer which, if not removed early while it is thin, spreads internally and is usually fatal. It is often ignored until too late because, in the early stages, it may look harmless and cause no discomfort. Many people don’t realize that something small on their skin can kill them if not treated promptly.
Although it is uncommon in children under 12, melanoma occurs in every age group after puberty. It is the most common cancer in the 25 to 29 age group and second most common in the 15 to 29 age group. Women under age 39 are more likely to develop melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer. Overall, melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in males and sixth in females. The U.S. incidence of melanoma is more than double that of new HIV infections and is increasing at an epidemic rate; 123,590 new cases are predicted in 2011. Most new melanoma patients have no family history of the disease; it can strike anyone regardless of health, physical condition, or skin complexion. On the average, there is a melanoma death in the U.S. almost every hour.
The good news is that melanoma is easy to detect yourself at an early stage while it is thin and is curable by simple, painless removal in an office setting. All it takes is a ten minute monthly skin check. This site shows you how to check your skin, what to look for, and how to decrease your risk of melanoma: http://www.skincheck.org/Page5.htm
What causes melanoma?
Although the risk of developing melanoma cannot be eliminated, it can be reduced by minimizing exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and from tanning lamps, especially during childhood and adolescence.
- Skin damage from UV exposure is cumulative throughout your lifetime and cannot be reversed.
- One blistering sunburn before age 20 doubles your lifetime risk of melanoma. Three or more blistering sunburns before age 20 multiplies your lifetime risk by five
- Temperature does not affect the intensity of UV radiation; exposure in winter can be just as damaging to your skin as exposure in summer.
- Light clouds and haze do not protect against UV exposure. A heavy overcast prevents most UVB exposure but only about 50 percent of UVA exposure.
- Reflection of UV radiation from light surfaces such as sand, water, concrete, and snow can damage your skin. A beach umbrella may provide as little as 50 percent protection from UV radiation due to reflection from sand.
- Being in water (or covered in water) does not prevent UV damage to your skin and may even magnify the damage.
I have been an indoor tanner for several years but as I get older it is causing a a lot of damage to my skin so I haven’t been in the booth for a few months. The information below (also from the Melanoma Education Foundation) might keep me from sunless tanning in the future.
What You Should Know About Indoor UV Tanning
The Indoor Tanning Association is lying to you and to tanning salon operators about the risks of indoor tanning. They want you to believe that “responsible” indoor UV tanning is safe, that there is no compelling evidence that UV radiation from tanning beds causes melanoma and other skin cancers, that getting a base tan protects you from subsequent sunburn, and that indoor UV tanning may even protect you from cancer by generating Vitamin D. The absurd claims of the five billion dollar per year UV tanning industry of today and the tobacco industry of 30 to 40 years ago are frighteningly similar.
- UVB radiation from tanning beds and tanning booths has about the same intensity as that of the sun. UVA radiation from tanning beds and tanning booths is 10 to 13 times more intense than that of the sun.
- A 2007 Australian study found an overall increased melanoma risk of 22 to 36 percent among individuals who had used a tanning bed.
- A 1994 Swedish study published in American Journal of Epidemiology found that tanning bed users under age 30 who tanned 10 times or more per year multiplied their lifetime risk of melanoma by nearly eight.
- Using a tanning bed to reduce the risk of sunburn before going to a sunny climate is ineffective. A tan provides protection equivalent to a sunscreen with an SPF of 2 to 3, not nearly enough to prevent sunburn.
- UV exposure is not required to provide an adequate amount of Vitamin D. The Vitamin D found in supplements is the same as the Vitamin D generated by exposure to sunlight. Supplements are just as effective as sunlight for those who are deficient in Vitamin D.
Things to remember:
-Limit your exposure to UV rays- use sunscreen everyday
-Stay out of tanning beds
-Check your body monthly and DON’T wait to get anything unusual checked out by a doctor. It could be a matter of life and death.
Thank you to Vicki for being such a wonderful person. We’ll miss you but we thank you for bringing awareness to this disease. Rest in Peace.
- Indoor Tanning: The Risks of Ultraviolet Rays (everydayhealth.com)
- What are the consequences of being in the sun too long (wiki.answers.com)