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MRF to Young Adults: Debunk Melanoma Myths To Increase Survival Odds

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Melanoma’s role as the number one form of cancer in young adults may be fueled by pervasive myths and misunderstandings about risk factors, and ways to detect and treat the disease. 

In 2010 alone, nearly 69,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma, resulting in one death every single hour. It is the most common form of cancer in young adults 25- to 29-years-old and the second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults 15- to 29-years-old.

“There is a huge amount of misinformation out there and many people are misguided in their understanding of what constitutes risky behavior and how they can spot a problem once it arises,” said Tim Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF). 

To debunk some of these misconceptions about the disease, the MRF has identified five common myths that put people at risk. 

Myth #1: It’s “only” skin cancer.

Most people are unaware of the seriousness of melanoma and believe that it is something that can easily be removed or cut away.  In fact, it is the most deadly type of skin cancer and is particularly dangerous once it spreads to the lymph nodes and other areas of the body.  It can strike men and women of all ages, and rates among young women have alarmingly soared 50 percent since 1980.

Myth #2: Melanoma isn’t a threat to people with dark skin.

Fact: Although the incidence of melanoma is higher in Caucasians, studies have found that the mortality rate in black and Hispanic patients is particularly high as they are typically diagnosed when the disease is in its advanced stages.  Often, black and Hispanic patients develop melanoma in locations that aren’t regularly exposed to the sun, such as the foot or toenails and many patients wait to seek treatment.  Reggae musician Bob Marley was diagnosed with melanoma on his foot and died in 1981 of metastatic melanoma at the age of 36.

Myth #3: Having a tan means that I’m healthy.

Fact: There is no such thing as a “safe” or even “healthy tan.”  Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays causes a biochemical reaction in the skin that causes it to tan.  It is also the same process that damages DNA, causing cancerous mutations in skin cells.  If these mutations aren’t completely repaired, the result can be skin cancer.  Some people also believe UV exposure is needed to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D.  However, you can safely obtain enough vitamin D through dietary supplements and through nutrients found in food.  You don’t need to expose yourself to UV rays, a known carcinogen.

Myth #4: The little spots on my skin are nothing to worry about.

People who have many moles (more than 50) have an increased chance of developing melanoma.  The disease occurs more frequently in people who have fair skin that burns or freckles easily and every time you burn your skin, you increase your risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.  If you notice changes in your skin or suspicious moles, you should seek out a trained health care professional, such as a dermatologist. 

Myth #5: My doctor will tell me if there is something wrong.

Diagnosing melanoma is tricky and easy for health care professionals to miss.  Although many melanomas can be diagnosed by their asymmetry, border, color and diameter, not all melanomas fit within these rules.  It’s important to monitor for any changes in your skin or moles that simply may seem different from the others.  Many patients say that it was a “gut feeling” that told them something was wrong, so don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.  The importance of listening to your body cannot be overstated.  Early detection is essential to improving prognosis for patients and survival rates exceed 90 percent in those who are diagnosed in early stages of the disease.  However, melanoma is deadly in its most advanced stages as few treatment options exist and survival rates can drop to less than 20 percent.  Anyone with concerns about a spot on their skin should be proactive about getting checked by a dermatologist.

More information about melanoma and the services provided by the MRF is available at www.melanoma.org

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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. 

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.