It’s Going to be Beautiful This Weekend…BUT

I know the weather is going to be fabulous this weekend, but before you spend your days basking in the sun, please read this.

I wrote this article for a class I’m taking, and the seriousness of melanoma can’t be overlooked. Melanoma is the leading killer of women, and is one of the most common forms of cancer. So, anyway, here is the story….

In a “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” and “Jersey Shore” obsessed society, tanning beds and baking in the sun have become popular trends for young people. These trends, however, are more deadly than they are beautifying.

Tanning essentially soaks ultraviolet radiation, also known as UV rays, into the skin, which eventually can cause the cells to grow abnormally, resulting in the skin cancer melanoma. UV rays are emitted from natural sunlight, tanning booths and sunlamps.

The Melanoma Research Foundation explains that this means every eight minutes someone is diagnosed with melanoma, and every hour someone dies from it.  Over 8,650 people died in 2009 from melanoma, and experts estimate that nearly 9,480 will die in 2013.

Men are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma, with 1 in 41, while women have a 1 in 61 chance. “Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in men and the seventh most common in women in the United States,” Susan Davis, a nurse practitioner at Sinai Hospital, said. “It is the leading cause of cancer death for women ages 25 to 30. Survival depends on the stage that it is at the time of diagnosis,” Davis said, which is why prevention is the key to surviving and beating melanoma.

Dermatologists do routine checks for melanoma, using magnifiers and special tools to see small areas of the skin, which can be missed by the human eye. “They look at every little particular skin thing,” Davis explained. “They start at the face and neck, and they really do look at everything. Even the bottom of your feet, they’ll look at,” she said.

However, that isn’t the only way to detect melanoma. “It’s the ABCDE rule,” Davis said. It’s easy to remember, so here are the steps. “A has to do with if a lesion or something on your skin has an a-symmetrical border or an irregular shape. B is for borders; irregular borders.” C has to do with the color variation. If a spot on your skin changes from brown, red, black, or blue to another color. Change is the biggest thing to be aware of for any spots on your skin. Diameter greater than or equal to six millimeters is also a red flag for spots on your skin. “Evolving… if something is changing over time. If you see something on your arm and you think ‘oh, it didn’t look like that last year.’ These are the five main criteria that you need to be familiar with.”

“The Ugly Duckling sign” is another sign that can be used to point out melanoma. “One particular thing on your skin that looks different from everything else,” Davis said. Anything that changes on your skin or looks different than everything else can be a red flag. A biopsy of the skin could be needed to determine if it’s cancerous or not. The sooner you detect a change in skin and get it evaluated by a doctor, the higher the chance of catching melanoma early.

“The risk of melanoma is more than ten times higher for whites than for African Americans,” the American Cancer Society said. This isn’t to say that cancer is racist; those more susceptible to UV rays are those with light skin. A clear indicator of higher risk is freckling on the face or body. The lighter the skin and the easier it gets freckles or burns, the higher the risk factor for melanoma.

“There is a direct correlation between UV light, the sun, and melanoma,” Davis said. “It’s the major risk factor for melanoma is the UV exposure.  There’s been an association with adolescence or childhood, if you had intermittent sunburns and exposure; there was an increased association with the risk of melanoma as you got older. During childhood, kids who have had five or more sunburns in childhood or adolescence have a two-fold greater risk of developing melanoma,” she explained.

The importance of sunscreen in everyday use is becoming more and more prevalent, as well as the products to utilize SPF. For women, access to everyday sun protection is simple; foundation, moisturizer, BB creams, and face powders all contain SPF for everyday wear. “Neutrogena has a product that’s called helioplex, as well as anthelios,” Davis said. “They are physical blockers that have titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which give you a full spectrum of protection.”

Using a product with built-in protection is imperative for preventing melanoma, especially in men, when accessibility to prevention may be more difficult than for women. For the gentlemen out there who worry about skin care but are uncertain about product availability targeted specifically towards men, the market has recently changed. Neutrogena Triple Protect Lotion for Men Soothes razor irritation and helps dry skin while still containing SPF 20 and protecting skin from dangerous UV rays.

“Think of a shot glass,” Davis explained. “You need an ounce to cover your body. Studies show that people are not putting enough [sunscreen] on.” If you don’t use enough sunscreen, SPF 30 becomes the strength of SPF 10 instead, depleting the protective qualities from  UV rays.

Preventing melanoma is much easier than treating it. Although treatments can vary, none of them are pleasant. “It’s like a bypass that they do on a limb,” Davis said. If melanoma was on a person’s leg, for example, “they cut off the circulation to the body and they infuse chemotherapy just in the circulation of the leg to address some of these bad cases of melanoma.”

While Snooki and JWOWW may look attractive after leaving the tanning booth, their skin is going to hate them for it years down the road. The best way to fight melanoma is to prevent it; wear sunscreen every day, avoid UV rays, and be aware of the factors that lead to higher risk of developing the cancer.