Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Looking for SkinCancerRibbon.org?

Many of our readers have inquired about the status of our SkinCancerRibbon.org site. Due to technical difficulties, the site is currently down; however, we have established a [temporary] blog where the latest information regarding the National Skin Cancer Awareness ribbon will be posted. That blog is located at the following URL:


Additionally, a variety of previous posts contain a lot of valuable information regarding the National Skin Cancer Awareness Symbol - and how to get your official pin. So, feel free to surf this blog. If you have any additional questions about the ribbon, the book, and/or our organization, you can send an email to: info@cancercrusaders.org

We should be posting information about winter sun safety and other valuable tips/tools shortly, so keep your eyes peeled. Remember, sun safety is a year-round affair. We invite you to read previous posts and learn more!

The Cancer Crusaders Organization.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

UV Safety Month: Understanding Ultraviolet Radiation

Traditionally, May has been the designated time when national promotional efforts are focused on skin cancer prevention. (Though, in reality, skin cancer prevention is a year-round issue). The subject of skin cancer prevention/sun safety has resurfaced this month - July has been officially named "UV Safety Month".

Speaking of UV safety, particularly in relation to skin cancer prevention, I'm reprising a Blog post I wrote last year that describes (in laymen's terms) how ultraviolet radiation works - it’s dangers, why we need to be aware of it, and how to protect ourselves:

Understanding Ultraviolet Radiation - Q&A

Q. What is solar ultraviolet radiation?

A. Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is defined as the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum between 100 nanometers (nm) and 400nm. Ultraviolet radiation is classified by wavelength into three regions: UVA - Ultraviolet radiation in the range 315nm to 400nm is thought to contribute to premature aging and wrinkling of the skin and has recently been implicated as a cause of skin cancer. UVB - Ultraviolet radiation in the range 280nm to 315nm is more dangerous than UVA and has been implicated as the major cause of skin cancers, sunburns, and cataracts. UVC - Ultraviolet radiation in the range 100nm to 280nm is extremely dangerous but does not reach the earth’s surface due to absorption in the atmosphere by ozone.

Q. How are people exposed to UVR?

A. Solar UVR is the single most significant source of UVR and can reach a person on the ground from three sources, directly from the sun, scattered from the open sky and reflected from the environment. This means that even if a person is shaded from the direct sun they can still receive substantial UVR exposure from the open sky. Also some ground and building surfaces are quite reflective to UVR including white paint, concrete and metallic surfaces. These surfaces can reflect UVR onto the skin and eyes. Reflective surfaces can reduce the effect of protective measures. There are also many types of artificial UVR sources, some of which emit high levels of UVR. Arc welders used in industry produce an intense UVR emission and workers exposed to welding radiation may suffer similar health effects to workers with over exposure to solar UVR. There are many other forms of artificial UVR sources such as fluorescent lamps, mercury vapor, metal halide and quartz halogen lamps used in industry, offices and in the home.

Q. How is UVR measured?

A. Broadband UV biometers and pyranometers are generally used to measure or monitor solar UVR. These instruments measure global solar UVR received on a horizontal surface from the entire hemisphere of the sky. Solar radiation includes both UVR transmitted directly and scattered UVR from the atmosphere, so the design of these instruments ensures measurement of both direct and diffuse radiation. These instruments can also be used to monitor changes in ozone levels and cloud cover effects by measuring changes in UVR irradiation levels.

Q. What are the effects of exposure to UVR?

A. Major organs at risk from exposure to UVR include skin and eyes as the penetration depth of UVR is very short. Ultraviolet radiation can be produced by various artificial sources but for most people the sun is the predominant source of UVR exposure. For outdoor workers without adequate protection or control measures the levels of solar UVR may exceed the generally accepted exposure limits. Those who have been over-exposed to UVR may be unaware of their injury as UVR cannot be seen or felt and does not produce an immediate reaction. Over-exposure to UVR can cause sunburn, skin damage and skin cancer. The most obvious short-term effect of over-exposure to UVR is sunburn. The more UVR exposure, the worse the sunburn becomes. A person’s cumulative exposure to UVR along with the number of severe sunburns they have received, especially during childhood, increases their risk of developing skin cancer. Sun exposure causes the outer layers of the skin to thicken and long-term exposure can cause skin to wrinkle, sag and become leathery. Melanoma, the least common of the skin cancers but the most dangerous, may be related to severe exposure to solar UVR at an early age. Malignant melanomas may appear without warning as a dark mole or a dark “spot” on the skin. UVR exposure also places our eyes at risk of photokeratitis, photoconjunctivitus, ocular melanoma, and cataracts. Cataracts is one of the most common types of eye damage in Australia. Cataracts is the clouding of the lens of the eye, which is responsible for focusing light and producing sharp images. Without intervention, cataracts can lead to blindness.

Q. How can I reduce my risk from UVR exposure?

A. Increasing public awareness and interest in UV protection is due in part to the requirements for occupational protection of outdoor workers as well as the provision of UVR protection for the recreational market. Behavior outdoors can significantly affect a person’s solar UVR exposure and use of items of personal protection can provide a substantial reduction in the UVR dose received. Many forms of personal protection are available to reduce a person’s exposure to solar UVR. The best protection is to avoid peak hours of 10:00 AM and 4:00 AM when the sun's rays are most intense, coupled with proper sun protection year-round (even on cloudy and cold days). When outdoors, wear sun protecting clothing with good body coverage (rated at UPF 50+), a wide-brimmed hat, UV protective sunglasses and SPF 30 sunscreen. Over recent years interest has extended to shade structures and the UVR protection offered by commonly used materials such as shadecloth, plastic roofing materials, glass and window tinting films, even specially manufactured sun protective clothing. Additionally, everyone should avoid tanning beds. There is NO SUCH THING AS A SAFE TAN!

Q. What is the UV Index?

A. Some exposure to sunlight can be enjoyable; however, too much could be dangerous. Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause immediate effects such as sunburn and long-term problems such as skin cancer and cataracts. The UV Index, which was developed by the National Weather Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), provides important information to help you plan your outdoor activities to prevent overexposure to the sun’s rays. The UV Index provides a daily forecast of the expected risk of overexposure to the sun. The Index predicts UV intensity levels on a scale of 1 to 11+, where low indicates a minimal risk of overexposure and 11+ means an extreme risk. Calculated on a next-day basis for every ZIP code across the United States, the UV Index takes into account clouds and other local conditions that affect the amount of UV radiation reaching the ground in different parts of the country.

UV Index Number Exposure Level
0 to 2 Low
3 to 5 Moderate
6 to 8 High
8 to 10 Very High
11+ Extreme

With 90-95% of skin cancers resulting from over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning, skin cancer is largely preventable. Yet, in order to prevent skin cancer we must take proactive measures to protect ourselves and youth from it. The media and society, as a whole, may not recognize the seriousness of skin cancer and how incidence is growing at epidemic rates; however, I will continue to do bring this issue to light in hopes to not only raise awareness but convince people to protect themselves. We have a responsibility to do what is necessary to protect ourselves and others from skin cancer, especially when we can largely PREVENT it. The first step is proper education about skin cancer prevention. And the first step in preventing skin cancer (or, at least, significantly reducing our risk) is protecting our skin from over-exposure to damaging, even carcinogenic (cancer-causing) ultraviolet radiation. In turn, one of the most effective methods of protecting our skin from UV exposure is proper year-round use of a quality SPF 30 sunscreen (see www.bluelizard.net) and UPF 50+ sun-safety clothing (see UVSkinz.com).

For more information about quality sunscreens and sun protective clothing, see previous Blog posts.

That being said, UVSkinz is extending its offer to give a FREE UV protective shirt (with every purchase) until August to celebrate UV Safety. Please see www.UVSkinz.com to learn more about how you can get a free UPF 50+ (SPF 30) sun-safety shirt for your family.

Sources: American Academy of Dermatology & ARPANZA.

Copyright. Danielle M. White, The Cancer Crusaders Organization 2005-2008.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Get a FREE Sun Safety Shirt - NOW!

Sun safety doesn't mean you have to keep the kids cooped up inside all summer long; rather, effectively protecting them from over-exposure to UV rays. More than 95% of skin cancers are caused by over-exposure to UV rays. Therefore, this ever-growing cancer is largely preventable – if we are proactive about protecting ourselves and our children. This means proactive, year-round (and daily) sun safety! (Refer to previous Blog posts about sun safety for kids and the danger of ultraviolet radiation.)

In addition to properly applying sunscreen every day (even on cloudy and cold days), leading dermatologists at the American Academy of Dermatology recommend wearing quality sun protective clothing. The sun protective clothing available through UVSkinz.com is rated at UPF 50+ (the highest rating) which blocks out >97.5% of UV rays. It’s equivalent to an SPF 30 sunscreen. Together, the proper application of an effective broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen (like Blue Lizard Sensitive or Baby) and wearing quality UPF 50+ sun protective clothing (like those available at UVSkinz.com) provides superb UV protection.

In effort to help families teach their children about the importance of sun safety, UVSkinz.com will be giving away one free UV protective shirt to each family from now until the end of June. UV Skinz founder, Rhonda Sparks, is giving away a free sun protective shirt to honor her husband, Darren, whom she lost to melanoma. Darren, a father of three young children, was only 32-year-old when malignant melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – claimed his life. June commemorates his birthday.

So, from now until June 30th, get a free UV protective shirt for your family through UVSkinz.com. For more information, send an email to: info@uvskinz.com. This is a great opportunity get your hands on quality sun protective apparel this summer! And, don’t forget to apply the sunscreen! (Read previous Blog posts about proper sunscreen application.)

Stay tuned for more information about tips and tools to help educate your children/family about effective sun protection.

Note: The free sun-safe shirt give-away is exclusively through UVSkinz.com. For information and other details, please visit their site. The give-away will go until June 30, 2008. Please take note of the rules regarding the give-away when logging on to www.UVSkiz.com. (The shirts are free with ANY purchase). Please contact UV Skinz for more details.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Introducing a Great Sun Safety Tool for Kids

Many of us have heard about the dangers of over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and its direct link to an increased risk for skin cancer. Yet, how many of us proactively protect ourselves – and our children?

The risk for skin cancer is not hype; rather, it’s a very real threat. More than 1.3-million Americans will be diagnosed with a form of skin cancer this year – including melanoma, the deadliest form. In fact, melanoma kills more women in their 20s and 30s than any other cancer. Melanoma is even being seen in young children.

It's true - skin cancer is the world’s most common cancer, and the fastest growing cancer in the United States.

The good news: Skin cancer is largely preventable if we’re proactive about year-round sun protection.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 80% of one’s lifetime sun damage occurs before age 18. In other words, if a child suffers one “blistering” sunburn before they reach 18, their risk for skin cancer as an adult dramatically increases (by approximately 60%).

These staggering statistics illustrate a growing epidemic that requires proactive prevention. This includes proper, regular application of a quality broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen – year-round (even on cold, cloudy days). Before your child goes outside, be sure to apply a shotglass amount of a quality broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen all over their body (don’t forget the ears, backs of necks, tops of feet, and hands). Do this approximately 20 minutes before they go outdoors. Then, reapply sunscreen every hour. If your child is under the age of six months, consult your dermatologist for advice. (Infants that young shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time.) Begin the process of daily sunscreen application when your children are young to foster a lifelong habit of proper sun protection. And, as with any important lesson, children learn best from example; therefore, parents should be applying sunscreen every day and reapplying it every two hours.

For more information about how sunscreens work, how to choose a quality sunscreen, and how to maximize sunscreen efficacy, please surf the Blog to view articles discussing this topic.

In the meantime, here’s a great educational tool to help teach your children about the importance of sun safety:

SKIN SENSE, written by social worker/mother Lori Glickman, is the first – and only – children’s book that teaches young children about sun safety/skin cancer prevention. Written in the voice of a four-year-old girl, it’s engaging and easy to understand. Order your copy today at www.UVSKINZ.com.

" [SKIN SENSE is] An accurate and important book, which grabs the attention of its young audience and impels them to want to protect their skin.” - Dr. Katherine Bell, dermalogist, Texas.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blue Lizard Free Sample Update

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Thank you for your interest in Blue Lizard Australian Suncream.

At this time, we have reached our cap for sample requests. Because we're a nonprofit organization comprised of volunteers, our resources are limited. Therefore, we can only accomodate so many requests at-a-time.

When we initially promoted this offer, we had no idea there would be such a surge of interest. Therefore, we set a cap between 500 - 1,000 samples max.

We're thrilled that so many people responded favorably, and are encouraged to see such an interest in sun protection. Indeed, there is a great deal of work still yet to be done to educate our communities about skin cancer prevention.

While we have reached our current cap, we do plan to offer free sunscreen samples again in the future. We'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, please read the blog often for skin cancer prevention education tips and updates.

Thank you, again, for your interest - and for helping us fight skin cancer.

Yours in the fight,
The Cancer Crusaders Organization

*Note: We offer(ed)free samples of Blue Lizard Australian Sunscream independently as a public service/educational tool because it's recommended by leading dermatologists. This offer was/is not affiliated with Blue Lizard in any way. We do not make a practice of endorsing products; rather, we donate our time, energy and resources to raising awareness about skin cancer prevention/sun safety. To purchase Blue Lizard sunscreen, please visit www.bluelizard.net. Thank you.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Show you care, Support the cause

It’s that time of year again – it’s summer time.

Spending more time outdoors means we need to be especially careful about proper sun protection. As many of you know, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world.

While skin cancer incidence continues to rise, the good news is: It’s preventable!

On this blog, you’ll find a variety of helpful tips on how to protect yourself and your loved ones from skin cancer. Everything from choosing the right sunscreen to proper application, to performing self skin exams – it’s all available here on the blog. So, take a few minutes to read through it. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to send me an email at info@cancercrusaders.org.

Another great site for valuable skin cancer prevention information is www.aad.org – this is the official site of the American Academy of Dermatology. You can also pick up a copy of our book -ONLY SKIN DEEP? at Barnes & Noble online.

As we continually work to stem the tide of skin cancer through increased awareness and prevention education, we ask for your support.

By donating $5.00 you’ll get a Skin Cancer Awareness pin featuring the official National Skin Cancer Awareness Symbol®.

To get your official Skin Cancer Awareness pin, and help support the cause, simply click below:

Thank you for your support!

Here's to your health,

Danielle, co-founder/president
The Cancer Crusaders Organization
PO BOX 2076 Provo, Utah 84603

(please allow up to 4 weeks for delivery of pins).

** Show you care -- send a picture of yourself wearing the Skin Cancer Awarenss pin, and you can get a special "thank you" gift from The Cancer Crusaders Organization.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Yes, I still care!

Today is May 30th which means it’s the last day of the month. Moreover, today marks the last day of national Skin Cancer Awareness month. It signifies the first Skin Cancer Awareness month in five years when I haven’t been proactively pushing the cause.

I feel so guilty!

Some cancer crusader I am, huh? The co-founder of The Cancer Crusaders Organization – the proud home of the official Skin Cancer Awareness ribbon – has neglected to host an event or even publicly acknowledge the cause this month. No speech or seminar, no conference or fundraiser – I haven’t even written any educational articles or blogged about skin cancer/sun safety this month.

In truth, I’ve been feeling guilty about this all month. Cancer crusading used to be a full-time [volunteer] job for me – I’d put in countless hours of work into it. After spending a full day at my real job for 8 or even 12 hours, I’d devote more hours working into the night (not to mention the hours spent on volunteering my weekends). The lack of time, resources, and manpower didn’t matter. I was passionate. I was relentless. I was dedicated. I was a “cancer crusader”.

I’m still a cancer crusader, though. I still wear the official Skin Cancer Awareness pin on my jacket lapel. But, I don’t wear it on my shirt every single solitary day like I used to for nearly four years. I still have a gallon jug of Blue Lizard Australian Suncream next to the front door of my apartment, and carry travel-sized bottles of it in my purse. I’m still the Willy Wonka of sunscreen samples, disbursing them freely whenever I hear someone’s been burnt or spends gratuitous amount of time outdoors without protection. Yet, I have about 50 emails requesting free samples to be mailed that I haven’t even answered. I think about those emails everyday thinking I’ll have a chance to answer them/send them samples, but by the time a free moment arrives I’m getting ready for bed. I just can’t seem to pull all-nighters anymore – I need at least seven hours of sleep to be functional at my job; my livelihood. Besides, walking eight blocks to the post office in the middle of the night isn’t exactly a wise idea). I still cringe with annoyed disgust at advertisements that promote tanning beds and perpetuate misleading/false information about sunscreens – I’m still tempted to write a letter in complaint. I still think about updating the ONLY SKIN DEEP? Book, and finally finishing the second one that’s about 80% done. (Actually, it’s been written but still needs some tweaking/editing/revision/reorganization.) I still pray for people I know touched by the disease, read the monthly email blasts the EPA sends to stay abreast of current trends and pertinent issues related to skin cancer/sun safety, I still try to help others with their skin cancer projects (i.e., Skin Sense), and I still wish there was more that I could do. I STILL CARE.

[But] life happens.

As the years pass, there are different things that demand our immediate attention. Our priorities don’t necessarily change, per se; rather, certain priorities require different things – a different level of personal investment and commitment – at different times in our life. As we grow and progress, our priorities grow (and “adjust”) along with us. I suppose it’s all part of the natural ebb and flow of life. And, realistically, I’m not the “same” person I was five years ago when I was traveling hither-and-yon across the state with my cancer crusading sidekick Miss Utah Natalie Johnson-Hatch (the creator of the National Skin Cancer Awareness Symbol®) promoting sun safety 24/7. And, to be honest, a part of me is glad for that. I’m grateful for the personal and professional growth I’ve experienced since then. I’m looking forward to further growth and progression as I strive to be the person HE wants me to be.

It’s not that I don’t care about cancer crusading. I’m still a cancer crusader. I just don’t do it exactly the same way I used to; I give in different ways now because certain priorities have required a certain amount of personal investment and commitment. The timing may have changed slightly, thus I am unable to devote AS MUCH TIME to the cause as I once did (and would like to). Yet, I still care.

I just show that care differently. I suppose it’s more internal than external. (Does that make sense?)

I have received many, many comments from partners in the skin cancer community wondering why “you don’t do as much – if anything – for the cause anymore, Danielle.” They ask, “don’t you care about it anymore? You used to be so passionate. You used to do so much.”

Yes! I still care.

And I still do a lot – just a lot of different “stuff”. I’m diligently working so that I can do exceptionally well at my career, so that I can achieve job security – pay my bills, pay off my student loans, and be a responsible adult like everyone else (and, course, donate to the cause). I’m preparing for GRAD school. I’m devoting more time to my spiritual pursuits so that I can strengthen my relationship with God. I’m taking care of myself – something that I’ve really neglected to do over the years. I’ve always felt so guilty about investing in myself. I much rather serve, care for and love others than think about myself. Yet, I’ve paid some pretty high prices for not properly caring for myself or investing in my personal well-being and growth. A good friend recently said to me, rather abruptly: “You can’t help anyone else unless you help yourself!” And while the delivery of the message may not have been ideal, and as much I really regret having driven someone I care about to such extreme frustration, the truth of the message is, more or less, irrefutable.

So, I’m taking the time to help myself so that, in time, I can truly help others more effectively and bless others’ lives.

Perhaps, in a way, I’m doing more for the cancer community – and my friends – than I ever have before… Either way, I’m still doing what I can – right now.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Take Nothing for Granted: Sun Protection a Year-Round Affair

Many of my readers will likely remember the story of Tiffany Berg, and her husband Paul – a two-time skin cancer survivor. After years of skiing, snowboarding, and failing to wear any sunscreen caught up to him Christmas 2004, when Paul was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. What, at first, to be a pesky sore began growing up through the epithelial layer of his mouth, and through his nasal cavity. Unfortunately, the first round of “natural” treatments did not work. The squamous cell carcinoma returned. Yet, after several rounds of radiation, and serious re constructive surgery to repair his mouth and face, Paul's skin cancer was removed and he was deemed to be “cancer-free.”

Alas, Paul's skin cancer returned three years later. As of December 25, 2007, Paul had a two-inch tumor removed from his lower right jaw. The squamous cell carcinoma had returned. As such, the father of five is now undergoing six weeks of radiation treatment.

When Tiffany told me that Paul's skin cancer had returned, I was – in a word – stunned. I was reminded that we must not taking anything for granted—not even skin cancer!

While squamous cell carcinoma is generally 90-95% treatable when found in its early stages, it has the potential for metasis if left untreated. In other words, it can grow and spread to other parts of the body thus becoming potentially life-threatening. Hence, it is vitally important that we perform regular skin exams each month, and visit the dermatologist every year. Moreover, we must be vigilant about wearing an effective broad-spectrum sunscreen all year-round—even during the winter. So, winter sports enthusiasts beware – ultraviolet radiation is highly reflective off of water and snow. The UV exposure from above is akin to double-whammy; therefore, be sure to protect your skin—especially your face and mouth—with proper sunscreen. And remember, to reapply sunscreen at least once every two hours (every hour if you are skiing/snowboarding at particularly high altitudes for an extended period of time).

Consider the following statistics recently released from a study conducted by Patricia Ayanbadejo, a scientist for the Internet Journal of Dentistry and Primary Orofacial Squamous Cell Carcinoma:

“Squamous cell carcinoma of the orofacial region [mouth and face] is an insidious and potentially life-threatening malignant neoplasm representing more than 90% of all head and neck cancers”, Ayanbadejo says.

In layman's terms, this means that squamous cell carcinoma can be potentially deadly if left untreated, and that it accounts for nearly all head/neck-related cancers.

Yet, the good news is that since squamous cell carcinoma (like other skin cancers) is largely attributable to cumulative sun exposure, it is largely preventable. Skin cancer is preventable if we are proactive about proper sun protection—all day, every day, even on cloudy and cold days.

Ye winter sports enthusiasts have been warned. Take nothing for granted. Remember, ultraviolet radiation is reflective—highly reflective off of snow and water. Hence, it is imperative that you apply a quality broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen to all exposed parts of your body—especially your face and lips. To learn more about how ultraviolet radiation works, and the importance of proper application (and reapplication) of a quality sunscreen, please read the hyperlinked articles. For a free sample of Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen to take with you as you hit the slopes (or whenever you venture outdoors), please contact The Cancer Crusaders Organization at info@cancercrusaders.org

Skin cancer is preventable only if we are proactive about proper year-round sun protection, as well as regular skin exams. So, be sure to take the proper precautions NOW to protect yourself from a future skin cancer diagnosis. Parents of young children under the age of 18, should adequately protect their children from UV exposure especially since 80% of one's lifetime sun damage occurs before age 18.

Additionally, if you have had skin cancer removed in the past, be sure and follow-up with your dermatologist-oncologist so to avoid recurrence. “Regular examination of the skin, especially of the head and neck if you have had orofacial skin cancers removed in the past is particularly important during the first two years of treatment, when 90% of recurrences develop,” says Ayanbadejo. “Local recurrence, or development of new primary tumors, is particularly common in patients who have been treated for cancer in the upper aerodigestive [lips, mouth, tongue, nose, throat, vocal cords, and part of the esophagus and windpipe] tract,” she says. “These patients are not only at risk for cancer in the head and neck region (recurrences and second primaries) but also of developing cancer in other parts of the body, particularly the lungs or esophagus.”

Again, skin cancer is preventable. Yet, it is also the most common cancer in the world. As such, it is imperative that we make sun protection a year-round affair, even during the winter months. While we may think that sun exposure will not directly effect us now, the cumulative exposure can—and does—lead to a heightened risk for skin cancer in the future. As Paul Berg once said in an interview conducted in 2005, after his second bought of skin cancer, “as kids we had no idea that the sun could hurt us.”

With that, take nothing for granted. Be proactive and protect your skin—all day, every day—for life! Skin cancer is not a summer-time only disease; rather, sun protection is a year-round affair.

For more information, check out the American Academy of Dermatology.

(Note: Special, updated edition of ONLY SKIN DEEP? An Essential Guide to Effective Skin Cancer Programs and Resources coming soon.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

An Introduction to The World's Most Common Cancer – Skin Cancer

A Growing Epidemic

Recently, the National Cancer Institute reported that the overall cancer mortality in the United States has been slowly declining since 2006. Breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer have seen a reduction in number of deaths; however, melanoma—the most lethal form of skin cancer is continually on the rise. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that more than 1.3 million Americans will be diagnosed with a form of skin cancer this year alone. They further report that melanoma skin cancer kills more women in their 20s and 30s than any other cancer—even exceeding lung and breast cancer, which were once considered to be the two most common cancer-related deaths for women in 2005. To bring this issue into more stark perspective, melanoma skin cancer incidence in the United States has increased by more than 6,000% in the past century, according to the both the AAD; every hour someone in the United States succumbs to melanoma skin cancer.

Before we examine why the skin cancer rate is increasing by near epidemic proportions in the U.S., and abroad, we must first understand what skin cancer is; how it develops, the different types, the signs and symptoms, including risk factors.

As mentioned in a previous article, cancer is the uncontrolled growth of mutated, abnormal, and immature cells in the body. Therefore, simply put, skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of immature cells in the skin.

Skin Cancer Basics

That said, there are three basic types of skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma—the deadliest form. Basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, refers to the location from which the lesion derives. In other words, the encyclopedic definition of basal cell carcinoma is a cancer that originates in a layer of skin (the basal layer) beneath the epidermis (the top, uppermost layer). Basal cell carcinomas are typically seen as a raised nodule, much like a wart or a lump, or even as reddish scaly sore. Basal cell carcinomas may also have a glossy, pearl-like tone to them.1 While basal cell carcinomas seldom metastasize (spread), they can, if left untreated, spread to the lymph or blood vessels. Fortunately, basal cell carcinoma is 90-95% treatable if caught and treated while in its early stages.

The second most common form of skin cancer is, as mentioned earlier, squamous cell carcinoma. Akin to basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma originates from epithelial tissue (a sheet of closely packed tissue that lines both external and internal bodily organs). Squamous cells are flat and often overlapping; they compose the epidermis and line certain internal cavities such as the mouth. Like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinomas usually appear on areas of the body that have been [over] exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning beds. Common areas for a squamous cell carcinoma to appear include the face (nose, inside/outside of the mouth), scalp, neck, ears, chest, hands, and legs. In rare instances, squamous cell carcinoma can be found in other parts of the body that are typically not exposed to UV rays (i.e., the prostate or vagina). Yet, in nearly all instances, squamous cell carcinoma appears as the result of prolonged, over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

You will notice that squamous cell carcinoma looks much like a sore. A persistent sore that will not heal after four or more weeks may be indicative of a possible squamous cell carcinoma. When in doubt, consult a board certified dermatologist. When properly treated, in its early stages, the cure rate for squamous cell carcinoma is approximately 90%. However, squamous cell carcinomas left untreated may spread to the lymph nodes and other surrounding areas, perhaps even becoming a malignant melanoma - an aggressive, and potentially lethal form of cancer.

Melanoma skin cancer may be the rarest form, but it is the most dangerous and lethal form of skin cancer. Whereas, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas share similar characteristics, melanoma is in a class by itself. It is an entirely separate form of skin cancer. Melanoma is also unique in comparison to other cancers in myriad ways. This is largely due to its particularly aggressive nature. In fact, more than 85% of skin cancer-related deaths are due to melanoma.

Once uncommon, melanoma kills more women in their 20s and 30s than any other form of cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. In fact, we have seen a 10% increase in melanoma incidence since 2006. It is estimated that 105,750 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year alone, with more than 8,000 of those resulting in death. In other words, melanoma kills another American every hour.

Deadly, but Preventable

Despite these staggering statistics, melanoma – like other skin cancers – is largely preventable. Because more than 90% of skin cancers are caused by prolonged over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning beds, it is preventable. Yet, melanoma is a very serious, even potentially deadly form of cancer.

So as to provide you with a clearer understanding of what melanoma is, let us dissect it. If we cut word melanoma in half, we have two separate words – mela and noma. The root mela comes from the word melanocytes, which are cells in the skin (located beneath the epidermis) that are responsible for producing pigmentation. The latter half of the term – noma – comes from the word carcinoma, which is a term referring to cancers of the body's external tissues and organs such as the skin. In fact, skin is the largest bodily organ!

Contrary to popular belief, melanoma is not a disease restricted to individuals with fair skin. Anyone with skin is at-risk for melanoma. While it is true that fair-skinned persons are at higher risk for melanoma skin cancer (Caucasian-Americans are 20 times more likely than African Americans to develop melanoma), melanoma is not a respecter of persons. In fact, popular Jamaican Reggae singer Bob Marley died of malignant melanoma, at age 36. So, simply put, anyone can get melanoma. Hence, it is imperative that we are proactive about protecting our skin from over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and are equally proactive about monthly self-skin exams and annual visits to the dermatologist.

To learn more, check out ONLY SKIN DEEP? An Essential Guide to Effective Skin Cancer Programs and Resources. (Revised, Special edition due out soon!)

Copyright. Danielle M. White, The Cancer Crusaders Organization 2005-2008.