Story Time: It’s Melanoma Monday, Check Yourself! Monday 07 May, 2012
Today is Melanoma Monday—have you had your skin (moles, freckles and all) checked lately? Learn more about how you can and why you should in the new Spot Skin Cancer initiative, launched by the American Academy of Dermatology.
I’ve been dealt that crappy hand of having a lot of moles. When I was a kid, I did a fairly good job of staying out of the sun. But, when I turned 16, it was as though a curtain had been drawn back from that fiery orb in the sky, and the sun gods chanted my name from above; I couldn’t resist their call. I can pinpoint the very start of their pull: Just before my senior prom (with my parents’ consent because I was still under the legal age), I signed up for an indoor tanning package. My gold dress needed—nay, demanded—a bronze tan. Who was I to deny my gold dress? There was just no way around it.
From that day forward, I worshiped the sun—but it was not so kind to me back. (PS: I was horrid about sunscreen, too—a double-whammy of dumbness.) The moles and freckles I had multiplied, and by the end of college, my chest looked like a dirtied constellation chart. But I still paid no mind. I was 22—nothing could hurt me! And then, five years later, I started reading Glamour magazine, which does a phenomenal job of scaring the bejesus out of me when it comes to skin cancer. The magazine included photos of moles that could be pre-cancerous, and of those that most definitely are cancerous. I frantically checked my chest, my legs, my tummy as I held the magazine up against my skin; I asked my husband to check my back, my stomach sick with worry. We both concluded that my “body map” of mottled dots needed a professional’s eye—our own four eyes seemed to think every single edge of every single mole looked funky. Off to the dermatologist I went.
And good thing: I had a suspicious mole removed. Thankfully, the biopsy of the tissue came back negative, but I do have a scar on my chest where that irregular mole once was. I look at the scar, and I think, “Phew.” But…why do I think this when I don’t go dutifully to get my annual check ups? And I am not proud to admit that. Not one bit.
This year I’m going, and let me tell you why: It’s downright ridiculous that I don’t go. First, I have a family history of skin cancer. Second, the month of May is all about skin cancer awareness, and several dermatologists out there will open their doors to me and everyone else to offer free skin cancer screenings.
Today, May 7, is Melanoma Monday and the official launch of Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is launching SPOT Skin Cancer, a public awareness initiative that focuses on the positive actions people can take to protect themselves from skin cancer, including seeing a dermatologist when appropriate. To help carry the program’s message, “Prevent. Detect. Live.”, the AAD has made live www.SpotSkinCancer.org, where visitors can learn how to perform a skin self-exam, download a body mole map for tracking changes in your skin, and find free skin cancer screenings in their area. Those affected by skin cancer also will be able to share their story via the website and download free materials to educate others in their community.
“Unlike other types of cancer that can’t be seen by the naked eye, skin cancer shows obvious signs on the surface of the skin that can be easily detected by properly examining it,” says board-certified dermatologist Daniel M. Siegel, MD, FAAD, AAD president. “The goal of SPOT Skin Cancer is to help save lives by educating the public on how to protect themselves from the sun and how to examine their skin for suspicious spots.”
The AAD also released some startling statistics that are worth sharing and knowing:
++ Almost three-quarters of adults polled (74%) did not know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S.
++ Only half (53%) of respondents knew how to examine their skin for signs of skin cancer.
++ Thirty percent of respondents were either unsure or did not know that skin cancer can be easily treated when caught early.
“When it comes to skin cancer, our survey demonstrates that knowledge is power,” says Dr. Siegel. “For example, respondents who know how to examine their skin for signs of skin cancer were more than twice as likely to have shown suspicious moles or spots to a medical professional as those who did not know how to spot the warning signs of skin cancer on their skin. In some instances, this knowledge can mean the difference between life and death, which is why it is so important to see a dermatologist if you notice a spot on your skin that is changing, itching or bleeding.”
And, then of course, there are the facts that simply can’t be ignored:
SKIN CANCER FACTS:
++ More than 3.5 million skin cancer cases affecting 2 million people are diagnosed annually.
++ Current estimates are that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime.
++ The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent.
So, visit www.SpotSkinCancer.org. Here at Fear No Beauty, I always say to “fear no this” and “fear no that.” With skin cancer, there is plenty to fear. Stay on top of it, get yourself mapped, do those annual check ups. Prevent. Detect. Live.