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As Children Head Back to School, Parents are Reminded of Need for Sun Safety and Early Detection

Berna Diehl
Jones Public Affairs
(202) 591-4045
[email protected]

HILLSBOROUGH, N.J.—As summertime comes to a close, many families have left behind long, hot days at the beach and replaced bathing suits with backpacks and books. However, with the incidence of melanoma rising in adolescents and young adults, families shouldn’t forget the importance of practicing year-round sun safety habits.

"Many families are vigilant about sun protection during the summer months, but then they forget that outdoor activities throughout the rest of the year can still put your family at risk of exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays," said Tim Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF). "Although the incidence of melanoma in children is rare, we want families to understand that it is possible and that exposure in childhood may be translating into the rising rates of melanoma in adolescents and young adults."

Research shows that severe sunburns, especially at a young age, greatly increase the risk for developing melanoma. In fact, just one blistering sunburn can double the chances of developing melanoma later in life. Sun safety habits are critical for children to learn at a young age to ensure life-long protection from damaging UV rays.

Approximately 65 percent of melanomas are attributed to UV exposure from sunlight or artificial sources, such as tanning beds. The Fox* family learned this firsthand when daughter Justine* noticed a strange spot on her scalp while brushing her hair after a shower. She immediately showed her mother Jeanne*, who insisted her daughter visit a dermatologist because of her history of tanning bed use. Although only 18-years-old at the time, she was diagnosed with stage I melanoma. Since then, Justine has undergone surgery to remove the cancerous cells and advocates for practicing sun safety and avoiding tanning beds.

"The scar on my head is significantly bigger than the small, dark spot I first noticed," said Justine. "I know I’m truly lucky that I noticed something was wrong and was diagnosed before the melanoma progressed. Since my diagnosis, I’ve spread the message of melanoma prevention and the importance of early detection to my friends and family. A suntan just isn’t worth the risk."

As a part of sun safety habits for kids and adults alike, it’s important to use extra caution when near water, snow and sand, since these can reflect the damaging rays of the sun and intensify the risk for sunburn. Outdoor athletics can also be overlooked as chances for overexposure to UV rays, especially since many don’t apply sunscreen during non-summer months and don’t reapply sunscreen after sweating. Protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants and wide-brimmed hats can reduce UV exposure.

Although most skin cancers develop around age 50, 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.

Early detection is essential to improve the prognosis of melanoma. In its early stages, melanoma may be successfully removed and monitored by regular skin screenings, and survival rates can exceed 90 to 95 percent. However, melanoma is deadly in its most advanced stages as few treatment options exist. The MRF reminds parents to check their children for suspicious moles and any change in freckles, bumps and birthmarks.

"We believe that Justine’s use of tanning beds played a role in the development of her melanoma. Parents need to be aware of the dangers associated with UV exposure, so they can help protect their children from this deadly disease," continued Jeanne. "Justine has been dedicated to raising awareness among her peers ever since her own diagnosis and in fact, she’s able to reach adolescents and young adults in a way that parents might not be able to. The message of sun safety can resonate even more coming from another young person who’s had to go through their own melanoma diagnosis."

The incidence of people under 30 developing melanoma is increasing faster than any other demographic group, soaring by 50 percent in young women since 1980. It is estimated that in 2010, nearly 69,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease, resulting in one death every hour.

"When we hear of stories like Justine’s, it affirms our commitment to promoting prevention and early detection because this is truly key to survival," said Turnham.

More information about prevention, early detection and patient support is available through the MRF’s website.

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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 www.melanoma.org

Cosmopolitan magazine 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 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.

*Names have been changed