Malignant melanoma education
The Sun-Sentinel has an article about common myths when it comes to skin cancer. Remember May is malignant melanoma awareness month. One small gripe with the article- The total deaths in US attributed to MM is under 8,000 not 10,500.
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Sun bad. Sunscreen good. Watch your moles. That's all some people know about skin cancer.
But doctors say there's more to the story, and many sun-baked South Floridians have misconceptions about the sun and skin tumors that unnecessarily expose them to a higher risk of cancer. Among the myths: that skin cancer is not serious, that dark-skinned people are safe, and that a little sunscreen is all you need.
As hundreds of thousands go out to SunFest in West Palm Beach and the McDonald's Air & Sea Show in Fort Lauderdale, South Florida dermatologists are trying to spread the gospel of melanoma prevention. And starting Saturday, doctors will offer free skin-cancer checkups. Screenings and self-exams are critical to catching skin tumors early, when they are almost completely curable via surgery.
"People don't get checked enough," said Dr. Quang Le, a Weston dermatology surgeon who has stopped strangers in stores to point out dangerous-looking marks on their skin. "What scares me is that a lot of people with skin cancer came in for something different and I just happened to see the tumor."
The biggest threat for skin cancer may be what people don't know, dermatologists said. Common misconceptions:
Myth: Skin cancer is not serious. The truth: It's the most common cancer in the nation, with more than 1 million new cases per year and growing at 3 percent annually. About 85 percent are basal cell tumors and 10 percent are squamous cell tumors, both of which grow on the surface, seldom spread and are easily removed.
"Basal cell cancer won't kill you, but the trouble with it is that it's locally destructive," said Dr. Keyvan Nouri, director of dermatological surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Both types can cause prominent scars and raise the risk for serious skin cancer, melanoma, which strikes one in 63 Americans and kills about 10,500 people per year. Melanomas caught early are cured 97 percent of the time but if they spread, only 18 percent of patients live five years or more.
A tumor only 1 millimeter deep -- the width of a pen point -- can be life-threatening if it occurs where the skin is thin, such as on the nose, lips, eyebrows and scalp. "And guess what? The face has the most sun exposure," Le said.
Myth: A "base tan" shields you for summer. The truth: Physicians say any tan means your skin has darkened due to damaging, excessive ultraviolet rays. Dark skin protects only if it was dark to begin with.
"There is no safe tan," Le said. "Anybody who needs a base tan is more prone to getting cancer." At highest risk are people with fair skin, freckles, light hair and light eyes. White people are about 20 times more likely to get skin cancer than black people, but no one is immune.
Key protections: Avoid being outdoors from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wear long sleeves and big-brimmed hats in the sun. Use liberal amounts of sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher, and reapply hourly.
Myth: Sunscreen is king. The truth: It helps, but not for long. Even if reapplied hourly, UV rays can defeat the strongest lotion and damage skin.
"Just because you use sunscreen doesn't mean you can stay out in the sun all day," Nouri said. Recent studies say we need some sunlight to make enough vitamin D and possibly ward off other cancers. How long is safe and enough? No one knows.
"Just driving around in your car in South Florida is probably enough," Nouri said.
Myth: People with dark skin are safe. The truth: Not really. Black and brown skin with lots of melanin protects better against UV rays. But dark-skinned people also are more prone than others to have moles, and moles that become abnormal are a major risk factor for melanoma.
Key protections: Physicians urge that you examine your skin regularly for moles and markings. Watch for the "ABCDE" red flags: A is for an asymmetrical spot. B is for irregular borders. C is for irregular color. D is for a diameter larger than 6 millimeters -- the size of a pencil eraser. E is for a spot with evolving size, shape, color or elevation.
Myth: Skin cancer is for the middle-aged and old. The truth: Yes, the median age of onset is 57, but dermatologists say the number of young adults and even children with skin tumors appear to be rising faster than in adults.
No one knows why youth cases are climbing. Some blame the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere letting in more UV rays. But all agree that parents should cover their children and limit sun exposure.
Sunburns in kids are dangerous because studies show that even one skin-blistering burn in childhood can double the risk of melanoma later in life.
Myth: Tanning salons are safer than the sun. The truth: Tanning booths can be more damaging to the skin because they use pure ultraviolet light.