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5 Questions That May Help You Dodge Cancer

WASHINGTON— With growing financial and time pressures in medical care, the era of the leisurely doctor’s visit is largely gone.  As visits become increasingly compact, it’s more important than ever for patients to go in prepared with questions for their healthcare provider that will help them get the best information to protect and maintain their health.  In the area of  skin health, and in particular, melanoma, there are some key questions that patients can explore with a primary care physician or dermatologist that will help them lower their own risk of facing this deadly type of skin cancer.    

Although melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the United States and worldwide, many people are still unaware of the seriousness of the disease.  Statistics surrounding this disease are alarming and every single hour one person will die from melanoma.  Approximately 69,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease in 2010, but many people don’t know what steps they need to take to protect themselves and their families.

Early detection of melanoma is essential to improve the prognosis.  In its early stages, melanoma can be successfully removed and monitored by regular skin screenings and survival rates can exceed 90 to 95 percent.  However, in its most advanced stages, melanoma can be deadly as few treatment options exist and survival rates drop to less than 20 percent.

“Unfortunately for those affected, there are few approved therapies for advanced melanoma that make a truly meaningful impact on survival,” said Tim Turnham, executive director for the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF).  “Early detection is your best tool in beating this disease and pursuing informative conversations with your doctor can be a big part of staying healthy.” 

Following are questions patients should consider asking their primary care physician or dermatologist to help them stay vigilant against melanoma:

Q: How often should I get checked? 

A: Asking your doctor this question is important because it signals to him or her that you’re concerned about your skin health and may prompt your care provider to be more vigilant on your behalf. 

Discussing this issue with your doctor will also help you assess your own risk factors.  Most people should carefully examine their skin once a month and report any changes to a dermatologist right away.  You should get physician input on the health of your skin at least once a year if you are over the age of 40. 

But, if you are under 40, discuss with your doctor whether you have any risk factors that would make it prudent for you to get a yearly skin exam at annual checkups.  These risk factors include: fair skin that burns or freckles easily, more than 50 moles, a personal and family history of skin cancer, a weakened immune system, a history of severe sunburns (especially while young) and frequent exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation (i.e. sun bathing or indoor tanning).

Also remember that, while your physician can help you spot issues, recognize that nobody knows your body better than you.  Many growing cancers are caught in between physician visits by patients performing thorough self skin checks.    

Q: What should I look for during a self skin check?

A: Most people have heard about the ABCDE’s to help check for suspicious spots.  Take advantage of your doctor’s visit by asking your doctor to show you spots on your own body and explain how they fit into the ABCDE criteria.  This “tutoring” can help you be more effective in doing your own self-check.  When doing your self-check, consult with a dermatologist if you’re concerned about a particular spot on your skin.

The ABCDE’s refer to:

  • Asymmetry – the shape of one half of the mole doesn’t match the other
  • Border – edges are ragged, notched, blurred or irregular in outline; the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin
  • Color – uneven; shades of black, brown, and tan; areas of white, grey, red, pink, or blue
  • Diameter – change in size, usually an increase
  • Evolving – moles have changed

Q: What can I do to reduce my risk?

A: Talk to your physician about what you’re doing to reduce your UV exposure.  Your doctor should be able to help you spot any risky exposures that might not otherwise occur to you.  For example, many patients overlook risks for UV exposure like:

  • Outdoor activities in snow
  • Failing to re-apply sunscreen frequently enough
  • Medications that might increase your sensitivity to sunlight

Q: Who will analyze my skin biopsy?

A: If you have a suspicious mole biopsied (the removal of cells or tissues for examination), ask your doctor if it will be analyzed by a dermatolopathologist or a general pathologist.  Dermatolopathologists are healthcare professionals who specialize in the study of skin diseases.  Melanomas are easy to miss or misdiagnose and these professionals have the training and expertise to determine whether a skin biopsy is in fact melanoma or another skin disease.  It’s extremely important to receive a proper and accurate diagnosis in order to inform you and your doctor as to the most appropriate course of treatment.

Q: Who are the healthcare professionals who will treat me if I’m faced with a melanoma diagnosis?

A: If you are faced with a diagnosis, know your options.  Some physicians see a patient with melanoma once a year and others see melanoma patients every week.  Of course, their familiarity with current treatment options will vary based on experience, so ask questions that will help you get the right care and experience when you need it. 

Dermatologists, oncologists, oncology nurses, and oncology social workers/counselors are all part of a spectrum of specialized healthcare professionals who are trained to support and care for you following a melanoma diagnosis.  From the initial skin biopsy to treatment plans, each plays a unique role in helping you deal with this disease.

More information about your melanoma treatment team can be accessed through the following link:  https://melanoma.org/learn-more/5-questions-may-help-you-dodge-cancer/revisions/12087/learn-more/melanoma-101/your-melanoma-treatment-team

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About Melanoma

Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, is one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States and can strike men and women of all ages, all races and skin types.  In fact, with a one in 50 lifetime risk of developing melanoma, nearly 69,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with the disease in 2010, resulting in 8,700 deaths or one person every hour.  Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25- to 29-years-old and the second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults 15- to 29-years-old.

About Melanoma Research Foundation

The Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) is the largest independent, national organization devoted to melanoma in the United States.  Committed to the support of medical research in finding effective treatments and eventually a cure for melanoma, the MRF also educates patients and physicians about prevention, diagnosis and the treatment of melanoma.  The MRF is an active advocate for the melanoma community, helping to raise awareness of this disease and the need for a cure.  The MRF’s website is the premier source for melanoma information seekers.  More information is available at https://melanoma.org/

Cosmopolitanmagazine has partnered with the MRF to educate people about the importance of sun safety.  Cosmo readers can receive an awareness bracelet with a $10 donation or more to the MRF. The fundraising drive is part of the magazine’s ongoing “Practice Safe Sun” campaign to combat the high rate of skin cancer among young women.  To get yours now, text MRF followed by a space then the amount of your donation to 27138 or visit www.firstgiving.com/cosmopolitan.