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Emphasize skin self-exams during melanoma month in May

The Academy of Dermatology (ADD) has designated May as Melanoma Month. The goal of this campaign is to heighten awareness of this deadliest form of skin cancer. I am writing to encourage you to continue to educate your readers about melanoma. Following is information for a potential news item emphasizing skin self exams as an important component to avoiding melanoma.

February 27, 2004 — Sloan-Kettering researchers note that self exams may reduce melanoma death by 63%.

Advanced Dermatology PC, 2004 The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has designated May as Melanoma Month, to heighten awareness of the deadliest form of skin cancer. This year, the comments of researchers at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in NY suggesting that Skin Self Examination (SSE) can reduce melanoma-related deaths by 63% — will likely place the focus of Melanoma Month squarely on preventative measures.

Dr. Joshua Fox, an official spokesperson for the AAD and founding director of Advanced Dermatology and The Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery in NY, confirms, We have been recommending Skin Self Examination (SSE) as part of our patient education program for years. But, considering the lethal and tricky nature of melanoma, we must now step up our efforts even further.

Dr. Fox points out that melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer because it is the one most likely to metastasize. It is also difficult for patients to detect, because it evolves as a new mole, or as changes to an existing mole. Without regular Skin Self Examinations, patients can easily miss the signs that melanoma has developed.

Recognizing those signs can indeed have lifesaving results. In a study conducted at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, NY and reported in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, researchers noted: Results from a single case-control study suggest that skin self-examination (SSE) has the potential to reduce mortality from melanoma by 63%. Despite these encouraging results, SSE rates are low.

Considering the hopeful statistics, the Sloan Kettering researchers designed a 100-patient study to determine factors that could increase their compliance with Skin Self Examination protocols. Researchers found that, by using such novel aids as baseline, whole-body photography and intervention by a health care professional, regular Skin Self Examination rates increased by over 50%. Using a baseline photo book alone as a guide for SSE increased the rate by 17%.

Dr. Fox recommends taking baseline photographs of suspicious areas before beginning a regular Skin Self Examination routine. He then encourages his patients to view each mole critically, using the ABCD approach:

– Appearance: has a mole developed suddenly on previously clear skin, or has an existing mole changed its appearance?

– Border: Is the border of the mole asymmetric (if you divide the mole in half, do the sides match in shape) or jagged?

– Color: Is the mole uniform in color, or is it flecked with darker black and/or red areas? Has its color changed or deepened?

– Diameter: Has the mole grown in size or become raised? Is it larger than the size of a pencils eraser?

While these signs do not confirm the existence of melanoma, they are definite indicators that the mole should be checked by a dermatologist immediately, Dr. Fox notes. He adds, Timing is crucial. When melanoma is caught early, when it has not invaded the deep layers of skin, it is nearly 100% curable. However, when it has metastasized to distant organs, the five-year survival rate drops to a mere 12%.

The AAD estimates that more than 51,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year, and the disease claims nearly 8,000 lives annually. Virtually all people are at risk for melanoma. Those in the highest risk groups include:

– people with a family history of melanoma (parents, siblings and/or children)

– people who have had multiple sunburns and/or extended unprotected exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun and/or tanning beds

– those who have fair complexions, or who tan poorly or not at all

– those with a large number of moles and/or atypical moles on their skin

Just as we have found the key to surviving breast cancer is through early detection, so have we determined that Skin Self Examination can dramatically reduce the mortality rate for melanoma, by early recognition and treatment leading to cures Dr. Fox notes. Simply by increasing the rate at which people comply with simple self exams, we can take a big step forward in stopping this deadly form of skin cancer.

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