According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 82,770 Americans will be diagnosed this year with skin cancer, including melanoma. When left untreated, melanoma is the most dangerous and aggressive form of skin cancer, accounting for more than 9,000 of the 12,000-plus skin cancer deaths each year. In observance of May's Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) has provided tips for prevention and early detection.
"While SCCA doctors have developed successful and innovative methods to treat skin cancer, the true fight against melanoma starts with the simple routines each of us do daily to protect our skin," said Dr. Kim Margolin, medical oncologist at SCCA and professor of medical oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
It only takes a few simple changes to a person's regular routine to reduce the chances of developing skin cancer. SCCA's skin cancer experts suggest adopting the following practical, prevention and early detection focused tactics:
•Limit sun exposure: Skin damage occurs over time and studies have shown that children tend to get 80 percent of their lifetime exposure by age 18. Limit the amount of time you and your children are in the sun, especially between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
•Use sunscreen: The American Cancer Society recommends daily use of sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30. Reapply sunscreen every few hours while exposed to the sun, regardless of the SPF and be wary of commonly overlooked areas such as the top of hands, ears and scalp.
•Protect your eyes: Cases of ocular skin cancer have increased dramatically in recent decades. Protect your eyes by avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight and wearing sunglasses in bright conditions. Fair skinned and blue-eyed people are especially susceptible to ocular skin cancers.
•Avoid tanning beds: People who use tanning beds at least once a month boost their risk of skin cancer by more than 50 percent, especially for younger users. Healthy alternatives include spray tanning and tinted lotions.
•Get annual screenings: Annual check-ups and regular self-exams are the best tools for early detection. Be sure to check your skin regularly, especially if you have a family history of skin cancer. Look for changes in moles and freckles, including asymmetry, uneven boarders, varied color, and growth.
•Learn your family's history of skin cancer: Talk with your doctor about your family history of cancer and other diseases. If skin cancer or melanoma runs in your family you could be at greater risk.
SCCA's skin cancer physician researchers have also developed clinical trials for melanoma patients that study the use of vaccines and immune cell treatments. With UW-OncoPlex, an advanced gene sequencing test, SCCA doctors can analyze the genetic mutations found in some cases of melanoma to help patients identify the most successful individualized treatment regimens.
Kathy Sparks, a patient at SCCA, understands the value in clinical trial participation. Diagnosed at 52 with malignant melanoma, Kathy underwent aggressive treatments to beat her cancer, including nine surgeries. Despite her lengthy and exhaustive treatments at an out-of-state medical facility, Kathy's cancer returned. Her doctors informed her that there were no other treatment options available and she was given a year to live.
Kathy decided to get a second opinion. Aware that her best chance for survival was to participate in a clinical research study, Kathy consulted with Dr. Margolin, a national leader in melanoma research. Dr. Margolin matched Kathy with a clinical trial in the fall of 2009 with minimal side effects and an 18 percent success rate. Kathy was one of the 18 percent and is now a stage IV melanoma survivor.
In an effort to educate melanoma patients on the latest in melanoma treatment and survivorship, SCCA, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Melanoma Research Foundation will host the 6th Annual Northwest Melanoma Symposium: Science to Survivorship, a free and educational event on Saturday, May 11, at the Pelton Auditorium on the Fred Hutch campus.
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance