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Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, strikes about 70,000 Americans each year and kills nearly 10,000, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sadly, many of those deaths could probably be prevented because melanoma is highly curable when caught early.
One famous example is Jamaican performer Bob Marley, who was felled by brain cancer in 1981 when he was just 36. The cancer spread from a melanoma on his big toe. It was initially misdiagnosed as a soccer injury and when the true nature of the problem was eventually discovered, his fate was already sealed, explains an article on repeatingislands.com.
Whether they play soccer, golf or baseball or just like to run, outdoor enthusiasts in Arizona are at higher risk for skin cancers because it’s easy to spend lots of time in the sun during all seasons. While most of the attention is on summer sun exposure, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends people thoroughly inspect their skin every month looking for suspicious lesions or blemishes.
If you find a mole or other skin issue that appears abnormal or causes you concern, schedule a consultation with a medical professional for a screening.
Here is some additional information about protecting yourself against skin cancer.
Sunscreen doesn’t cause cancer
Some people claim chemical ingredients in sunscreen are actually harmful and can cause cancer. But there is no research to support this idea, Wu notes. With tens of millions of people using sunscreen regularly, there would be some evidence if it were really harmful. On the other hand, countless studies document the benefits of using sunscreen.
Time your exposure
If you enjoy outdoor sports or jogging, being active at the right time of day can reduce your sun exposure.
“Try to plan your runs during hours where sun is less intense, such as early mornings or late afternoons or evenings,” advises Carly Benford. In addition to being an avid runner,
Benford is the research coordinator for a clinical trial for melanoma research at the Translational Genomics Research Institute. Benford says any abnormal changes to your skin could be a sign of skin cancer. She suggests having an annual skin exam from a dermatologist to catch any issues early.
SPF is not enough
Most people think they are protected if they use a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF). There are two types of damaging sun rays, Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB), and SPF refers only to UVB protection.
Read the label carefully because you need to make certain you use a sunscreen that also protects against UVA rays. Most dermatologists advise using sunscreen with 30 SPF or higher. Many believe higher is better, simply because people do such a poor job of properly applying sunscreen.
Dark skin is not a protection
The idea that people with tan or dark skin are not harmed by sun exposure is patently false. “Unfortunately, skin cancer is frequently diagnosed later in people of color — perhaps because of the misconception that they are not at risk — so it’s often progressed to a later stage and is more difficult to treat,” says Dr. Jessica Wu, a Los Angeles dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at USC School of Medicine in an article for Reader’s Digest.
Block the sun - Hats, Long Sleeves, Sunglasses
Even the best sunscreen allows some UV rays to get through. “Hats, sunglasses and UV protective clothing are all options, in addition to sunscreen, for protecting yourself from the damages of sun while on a run,” explains Benford. She notes many runners and other athletes don’t use any sunscreen, believing they’ll only be outside for a short time.
Source: Tgen - Translational Genomics Research Institute
Hispanic Americans are more likely than other Americans to be diagnosed with skin cancer in its later stages, when it's more apt to be fatal. One reason is the misconception that people with darker skin are immune from skin cancer, researchers say. Another is that public health campaigns tend to focus on lighter-skinned people, inadvertently reinforcing that belief.
"There is an idea among Hispanics that 'People like me don't get skin cancer,' " says Dr. Elliot J. Coups, a researcher and resident member at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. "It's true that they're at lower risk, but they're still at some risk — it's not zero risk. Hispanic individuals can be diagnosed with skin cancer."
The lifetime risk for being diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is just 0.5 percent for Hispanics, compared to 2.4 percent in non-Hispanic whites and 0.1 percent in blacks, according to the American Cancer Society. But 26 percent of Hispanic patients with melanoma aren't diagnosed until the cancer has progressed to the late stages, compared to 16 percent of white patients. That vastly increases their risk of death.
It's not because people from Latin American countries don't realize they need to protect themselves from the sun, Coups says. Instead, his research has found the opposite – that as Hispanic people assimilate to mainstream U.S. culture, they're more likely to put themselves at risk, with behaviors including lower use of sunscreen and sun-protective clothing.
Add that to the fact that the vast majority of public health campaigns link skin cancer risk to skin tone, and it's no wonder many Hispanics think they needn't worry, says Jennifer Hay, a behavioral scientist and clinical health psychologist who treats melanoma patients at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
In 2014, Hay and her colleagues looked at skin cancer education practices in Albuquerque, N.M., where 40 percent of the city's population self-identifies as Hispanic. She found that U.S.-born Hispanics were more likely than non-Hispanic whites to report misconceptions like, "People with skin cancer would have pain or other symptoms prior to diagnosis."
They were less likely to have gotten skin-cancer screening from a physician and less likely to wear sun-protective clothing, but as likely to use sunscreen and seek shade as were non-Hispanic whites.
There needs to be an increase in culturally relevant skin cancer prevention campaigns that target ethnic minorities, Hays says. Her current research, conducted in Spanish Harlem in New York City, has found that people do want information on preventing skin cancer.
"What we found is that people are really receptive to this kind of information, but they have not had the kind of access to it that we would like to see," says Hay. "That behooves us as public health researchers to find vehicles and channels to get this information out to more populations who could benefit from it."
That's not to say that skin tone doesn't matter; lighter-skinned people still do face a greater risk. "Latinos have a wide range of skin types," says Hay. "That range of skin type is much more important than whether one self-identifies as Latino or Hispanic. You can self-identify as Latino and still have very light skin."
But Dr. Henry W. Lim, chairman of dermatology at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, says everyone, no matter their skin tone, should practice sun safety. "We should go out and enjoy outdoor activities, but we should try to seek shade and we should wear appropriate clothing to cover up," he says.
Source: Npr.org / Ellie Hartleb
The large gray areas on the left hand image show the spread of melanoma tumors to the lung. On the right hand side, the tumors have shrunk after treatment.
Pembrolizumab hailed as 'miraculous' in skin cancer trial
A pioneering new drug appears to have cured a British man with advanced skin cancer who had been given just months to live. The drug, pembrolizumab, is the latest in a new generation of treatments that prevent cancers shielding themselves from the immune system. It was tested on melanoma - the most dangerous form of skin cancer - because the prospects for patients with advanced forms of this disease are so bleak.
Pembrolizumab is a synthetic antibody that blocks a biological pathway called programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) which cancers activate to suppress the immune system. In healthy individuals, PD-1 is part of the process that applies a "brake" to the immune system and prevents it running out of control. Without the brake, there is a risk of a harmful inflammatory reaction - a potential serious side-effect of the new drugs.
In a trial of 411 patients evaluating pembrolizumab - 69% of patients survived at least a year. This means a boost survival rates of melanoma from one in ten to nearly three in four. The result is considered remarkable because all had highly advanced melanoma and a very poor prognosis.
Currently one-year survival rates for untreated patients diagnosed with advanced stage four melanoma are just 10% for men and 35% for women.
Warwick Steele, a 64 year old television engineer from Ruislip, west London, had undergone six months of treatment with pembrolizumab, which is injected into the bloodstream. Doctors were astonished when after just three months his tumours had almost disappeared. Since then they have shown no sign of returning - and in fact have shrunk even further.
Before the treatment started he could barely walk because the melanoma had spread to one of his lungs and he found it hard to breathe. "I got tired simply standing up and was literally too exhausted to shave. But now I feel back to normal and can do gardening and go shopping", Steele remarks. Scans of his lungs - shown above - reveal that after just three infusions, the drug appears to have completely cleared the cancer from his lung.
More Trials Necessary
Doctors are urging caution. The results which have been published are of Phase I, early stage trials. Much larger Phase III trials are underway involving many UK hospitals. Only when they report, in about a year's time, can clinicians be sure what the likely benefits will be.
Like all drugs, the experimental treatments have side effects. Warwick Steele said he experienced night sweats and even had two brief blackouts when on the new drug. But he said it was well worth it, and doctors were now treating these symptoms.
Clinicians do not yet know the true extent of how pembrolizumab might affect survival. After 18 months, 62% of patients were still alive and undergoing treatment. In addition, around 80% of patients responded to the drug - an unusually high proportion. A total of 72% experienced tumour shrinkage, including 39% whose tumours were more than halved in size, according to one kind of assessment.
Additional data showed that the drug also reduced the size of advanced non-small cell lung cancers by up to 47%. Pembrolizumab's manufacturer, the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme, is expected to apply for a European licence to market the drug within months.
Source: The Independent, BBC News
Photo credit: BBC News
A new study finds that men in these groups are far more likely than women to ignore warnings to protect themselves against sunshine by wearing sunscreen or a hat. Recently, the British Journal of Dermatology published research based of 2,215 French people detailing what steps they took to reduce their risk for the sun.
Men vs. Women
The research found that men under 20 and over 64 are the least likely to heed advice about the need to minimize the harmful effects of UV radiation from sunlight. The same two groups of men also know the least about how to protect themselves from the risk they run from getting burned skin.
On the other hand, women aged between 20 and 64 displayed the most understanding of how the sun’s rays could damage their skin and were most likely to use high-factor sunscreen and to wear protective clothing. It is already known that death rates from malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are 70% higher in men than women.
Although similar numbers of both sexes develop it – 6,200 men and 6,600 women a year – far more men (1,300) than women (900) die. Death rates are rising among men, but stable among women. Death have risen by 185% among men and 55% among women over the last 40 years, mainly as a result of the increased popularity of tanned skin, beach holidays and tanning salons.
Since this research was done in France, it may not be possible to draw all-embracing conclusions from it. Regardless, this research does show that awareness of how to prevent skin cancer is low and that everyone should be “sun-smart”by wearing sunscreen of at least SPF 30 and to seek the shade, especially in the afternoon hours where the sun is most strong.
The first line of defense against skin cancer starts with you. You can catch skin cancer early by following dermatologists’ tips for checking your skin.
Click here to download a body mole map to document your self-examination and know what to look for when checking your spots. The Body Mole Map comes courtesy from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) SPOT Skin Cancer website.
When self-examining your skin, keep in mind the ABCDE's of melanoma.
A = Asymmetry
One half is unlike the other half.
B = Border
An irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
C = Color
Is varied from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red, or blue.
D = Diameter
Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.
E = Evolving
A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.
Melanoma is the most aggressive and deadliest form of skin cancer. If not caught in the early stages, melanoma can be quite a virulent form of cancer that can spread through the body with an efficiency that few tumors possess. This form of cancer is so ruthless because melanoma is born with it metastatic engines fully engaged. This means that melanoma’s aggressive nature seeks to grow deep in the skin and spread to other locations in the body.
The good news is that if melanoma is found and treated in its early stages, it is close to 100% curable. However, once it has spread to other parts of the body, it becomes increasing difficult to treat and possibly requiring multiple surgeries and advanced treatments. The chances of survival dips to a dire 15%.
Melanoma occurs in the melanocytes, the cells that color the skin and make moles. Melanocytes are located in the lower part of the epidermis and just above the dermis. Melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment that protects the skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Long exposure to UV rays damages and causes the melanocytes to mutate more frequently, potentially leading to the development of melanoma.
The Staggering Facts
In addition to preventing three types of skin cancer, Queensland researchers have discovered that sunscreen shields a ‘superhero’ p53 gene that repairs UV damaged skin.
Scientists performed the world’s first molecular level human study of the impact of sunscreen confirmed that sunscreen provides 100 percent protection against all three forms of skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. Skin biopsies also confirmed that sunscreen shields the p53 gene, also known as the tumor suppressor gene.
The p53 gene is responsible for proteins that can either repair damaged cells or cause damaged cells to die. However, exposure to UV can mutate the p53 gene, thus rendering it from functioning properly.
“As soon as our skin becomes sun damaged, the p53 gene goes to work repairing that damage and thereby preventing skin cancer occurring,” said lead researcher Dr. Elke Hacker, from Queensland University of Technology’s AusSun Research Lab. “But over time if skin is burnt regularly the p53 gene mutates and can no longer do the job it was intended for – it no longer repairs sun damaged skin and without this protection skin cancers are far more likely to occur.”
Fifty-seven people who participated in the study underwent a series of skin biopsies to examine molecular changes to the skin before and after UV exposure. First, the researchers took small skin biopsies of each participant’s unexposed skin. Then, a mild does of UV light was exposed to two skin spots on each participant, but sunscreen was applied only to one spot. After 24 hours, another set of skin biopsies were taken.
“After 24 hours, we took another set of biopsies and compared the skin samples,” Hacker said. “What we found was that, after 24 hours, where the sunscreen had been applied there were no DNA changes to the skin and no impact on the p53 gene.”
Hacker concludes that the study could be used to help develop post-sun exposure treatments that can repair sun-damaged skin, such as super sunscreens.
As always, remember to wear sunscreen and reapply every two hours.
For years, many have expressed privacy concerns over the use of body scanners at airports. However, the technology that peeks underneath our clothing has great potential for looking underneath our skin to diagnose cancer at the earliest and most treatable stages.
X-ray vs. T-rays
The most common types of airport body scanners either use X-ray or Terahertz rays (T-rays). In late 2012, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) quietly began removing X-ray based body scanners and replacing them with Terahertz based ones. Terahertz scanners, or millimeter-wave scanners, are non-ionizing and much safer than X-rays.
T-rays have the ability to look through human skin and tissue. Since it is non-ionizing, T-rays do not have enough energy to remove electrons from molecules, which means they won’t mutate our cells. Therefore, they can be harmlessly focused into our body to capture biochemical signatures of events like the start of cancer.
"We can take an image of the suspected area on the skin surface and under the skin surface at different depths to see if there is anything that looks totally different under the normal tissue," explains Dr. Anis Rahman, the chief technology officer of Applied Research and Photonics.
Detecting Malignant Melanoma
Although much more research needs to be done, T-rays show a lot of promise. The technology may be especially helpful in detecting early stages of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of cancer that starts in the deepest part of the outer layer of the skin that occurs long before people can see mole symptoms on the visible part of the skin.
Over 76,500 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2013 in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.
A new study from Cancer Research UK says that more men are dying from skin cancer than women, despite similar numbers being diagnosed with the disease. Each year in the UK, malignant melanoma kills 1,300 of the 6,200 men who develop it compared to 900 of the 6,600 women… and the gap is expected to widen.
Professor Julia Newton-Bishop, a Cancer Research UK dermatologist, suspects that there are biological differences and that women are more immune to melanoma. “We’re working on research to better understand why men and women’s bodies deal with their melanomas in different ways."
"We think it is something to do with the immune system rather than hormones because pre- and post-menopausal fare the same,” she added. In addition, German researchers have identified a gene that makes men more susceptible to melanoma.
Other health experts say that the difference is because men delay seeing their doctor and thus are diagnosed more advance staged melanoma. Whereas women most often develop skin cancer on their arms and legs, men often develop the cancer on their back, making it more difficult to spot.
“Asking your partner to check your back is a good idea,” said Prof Newton-Bishop. Male incidence rates are now more than five times higher than they were 30 years ago - rising from 2.7 per 100,000 to 17.2 per 100,000.
If you notice any changes in your skin, go see your doctor. Detect the early stages of melanoma by knowing the ABCDEs. Wear sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30 and generously re-apply every 2 hours. It's not about the SPF number, but about how often and how much you re-apply your sunscreen. Order the SunBuddy® - Back Lotion Applicator to help you apply sunscreen to your back and to other hard to reach areas of your body.