May 2014 – National Melanoma Skin Cancer Prevention Month

***I have a history of Stage IV Metastatic Malignant Melanoma.  Even though current medical technology can not currently detect the disease in my body, it is there and will always be there.  I live with the knowledge that it is extremely likely that someday it will return and it will be deadly.***

In addition to having metastatic melanoma, I suffer from another side effect of the disease – a paraneoplastic neurological syndrome that was triggered by the melanoma.  Basically, this disease is the body’s autoimmune system attacking itself while thinking it is fighting the cancer.  It has left me completely disabled, in chronic pain and unable to do all the things that I would like to do.  However, this has not stopped me.  I am a survivor and as long as I am able I will find ways to do as much as my body will allow for as long as I possibly can.  Many of my posts deal with my life with melanoma and chronic illness.

National Melanoma Skin Cancer Prevention Month has been designated by the American Academy of Dermatology.  It aims to raise awareness about skin cancer, increasing the chances of early detection so treatments can be given early. It is vital that skin cancers, and especially melanoma, a rarer and often deadly form of skin cancer, are treated early.  Later stage treatments for melanoma are not normally effective.

***There is no reliable cure for melanoma.  In most cases, all the surgeon can do is cut cancerous tissue from the body by removing malignant moles, the skin surrounding the malignant mole and removing nearby lymph nodes if the cancer has spread.***  

My first mole was on my upper leg and testing of the sentinel lymph nodes revealed that the cancer had already spread when I had my first operation.  I later had another operation to remove all of the lymph nodes in my left groin.  A year later, I had a metastatic lesion on my left upper arm.

Melanoma does not respond well to chemotherapy and the effects of drug treatments are quite limited. Once melanoma has spread to other parts of the body, life expectancy is significantly diminished.  Again, it is vital that early treatment be given and that the treatment is aggressive.

***Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States.  Skin cancer is more common in people with lightly pigmented skin – therefore, white people are more at risk and especially those of northern European heritage such as the Scots-Irish.***

Those with blonde or red hair, blue or green eyes, and those who sunburn easily are more likely to get skin cancer.  But that does not eliminate the risk for other hair and eye colors and darker skin types.  Everyone is susceptible to skin cancer.

Melanoma is thought to be caused by exposure to high levels of sunlight. A mole can become malignant (cancerous) many years after the skin has been sunburned.  Those who have often sun bathed or used tanning beds are especially at risk. One or more blistering sunburns during childhood or teenage years can contribute to skin cancer many years later. While previous exposure to the sun and tanning beds are established risk factors, melanoma and other skin cancers can still arise without overexposure to sun and light. Always check with your doctor if you have any kind of suspicious skin lesion.

***The earlier a skin cancer is detected, the better the odds that treatment might be successful.  And even with melanoma, early treatment can prevent the reoccurrence of the disease.***

Melanoma / Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month coincides with Melanoma Monday, an annual awareness day on the first Monday of May each year.  This year, Melanoma Monday is May 5, 2014.

The goal of Melanoma Monday is to raise awareness about melanoma.  Of the different types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most deadly and accounts for about 75% of all skin cancer deaths.

Melanomas can also develop in other areas of the body such as the eye, underneath nails and inside the nose and mouth. While melanoma is a less common form of skin cancer, in recent years, the incidence of melanoma has been increasing.

***Melanoma Monday is a day set aside to encourage people to examine their skin regularly and to seek medical assistance if there are recognized signs of a malignant mole.  Early detection and treatment is associated with a much higher survival rate.***

By educating the public about melanoma and encouraging early detection, Melanoma Monday can help save lives.

Melanoma Warning Signs:  A B C D E

To help spread awareness and make the melanoma warning signs memorable, the signs of a possible malignant mole can be abbreviated to the mnemonic: ABCDE.

A – Asymmetry: is the mole asymmetrical?  If you imagine a line drawn across the center of the mole, if the two halves do not match then they are considered asymmetrical.  If you have an asymmetrical mole, then seek medical assistance.

B – Border: does the border or edge of the mole look uneven? If so, please seek medical advice.

C – Color: is the mole one uniform color? If there are several colors or shades of a color within a mole this could be a warning sign. Seek medical assistance.

D – Diameter: how big is the mole?  Melanomas often have a diameter of 6mm (1/4inch) or more (diameter is the length across the mole).

E – Evolving: has the mole changed in shape, size or color? Have you noticed any other changes such as bleeding, itching or puss coming from the mole? These may be signs of a malignant mole so seek medical assistance.

If melanoma is not found early, progressed to a later stage and metastasized (spread to other parts of the body); then treatment options are limited and palliative care is usually the only remaining treatment option.  Palliative care means simply keeping the patient as comfortable as possible by treating symptoms until death comes.

***Drug treatments for melanoma, when successful, do not provide a cure. They may extend life for a time measured in months not years. There will always be exceptions and some people with metastatic (stage IV) melanoma live for many years after diagnosis.***

However, the prognosis for advanced melanoma is normally not good hence early detection is critical for success.

Here are some important links for more information:

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About mcreyscope

Retired / disabled survivor of Stage IV melanoma and paraneoplastic syndrome. Now in a fight with terminal treatment resistant Stage IV Prostate Cancer.
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