Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Not All Melanoma Comes From The Sun Or Tanning: Know The Facts

Currently UV rays (A and B), sunburns, sunscreen, suntanning, tanning beds, and anti-tanning bed legislation are all buzzwords in the world of melanoma. And rightfully so. But they can be misleading also because not all cases of melanoma are intricately linked to any of that. Thirty-five percent to be exact.

People can read what we say and watch the videos and walk away with a very false sense of security and think they're "safe" from melanoma. "I never lay out in the sun." "I always wear strong sunblock and use it correctly." "I've never been to a tanning bed." "I'm not fair skinned or even Caucasian." "I don't fit in any of the demographics I see portrayed." "Therefore, it can't happen to me."

Oh yes it can. Please pay attention as I pull out my calculator so we can do some math.

First, let me say when I pull facts and figures, I don't make them up or just take them from any ol' place. I go to trusted sources and I share those sources. So, from the Melanoma Research Foundation:

"The statistics around melanoma are astounding:
One-in-50 Americans has a lifetime risk of developing melanoma.
 In 2009 nearly 63,000 were diagnosed with melanoma in the United States, resulting in approximately 8,650 deaths.
The projected numbers (according to the National Cancer Institute) for 2012 are even higher with  76,250 diagnosis and 9,180 deaths."   

Keep those figures in mind as we look at the causes of melanoma. Again from Melanoma Research Foundation:

"The greatest contributor (approximately 65 percent) to melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from natural or artificial sources, such as sunlight and indoor tanning beds. It is likely that a combination of family history, genetics and environmental factors are to blame. However, since melanoma can occur in all melanocytes throughout the body, even those that are never exposed to the sun, UV light cannot be solely responsible for a diagnosis."

That means 35% of melanoma cases are NOT attributed to the sun or to tanning beds. Thirty-five percent! Thirty-five percent of 76, 250 is 26,687.5 and since there's no such thing as half a person, let's round that up. 26,688 people will be diagnosed this year and they will not be able to point to UV rays of any kind. That's just this year's projection.

Please read about other risk factors at the Melanoma Research Foundation.

The National Cancer Institute has this to say:
"When you're told that you have skin cancer, it's natural to wonder what may have caused the disease. The main risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to sunlight (UV radiation), but there are also other risk factors. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease.
People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. Some risk factors vary for the different types of skin cancer."

While Aim At Melanoma backs up what these other organizations say, they provide a wonderful chart "Top 17 Risk Factors For Melanoma."

Aim also has a page devoted to people who are not Caucasian so they can learn their risks for this disease. This page begins:
"Darker-skinned races produce more melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin and hair and protects the skin against damage from ultraviolet radiation.
Most skin cancer warnings are directed towards fair skinned individuals with blue eyes and blond or red hair who sunburn easily, as these individuals are at greatest risk. Given this fact, one may mistakenly assume that people with darker skin types such as Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans do not need to worry about melanoma.
This is not true. Increased pigmentation does protect individuals from UV - induced melanomas, but there is a type of melanoma called acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) that occurs even without UV exposure.
This type of melanoma, which also occurs, though less frequently, in the Caucasian population, is sometimes ignored or mistaken for an injury or a nail fungus. Because this particular form of melanoma is often misdiagnosed or ignored, it is often more deeply invasive when it is finally discovered."

And finally, the Skin Cancer Foundation has this page on causes and risk factors.

Let's not forget the children who are diagnosed with melanoma. The reasons young children get it still are not understood, but approximately 500 children, in the USA alone, are diagnosed each year. And like all melanoma cases, pediatric melanoma diagnoses are on the rise. MD Anderson has a most informative section on this topic but please note, "Among children, sun exposure plays less of a role in the development of melanoma. Researchers believe it is a combination of genetic predisposition and other unknown triggers." (emphasis mine).

While we are correct to sound alarms and warn people about the dangers of the sun and tanning beds, we must be careful and informed and not give the impression that all melanomas come from exposure to those sources. That's dangerous and misleading.

There are other factors. We must teach about the whole scope of melanoma and not just the part we are more familiar with.

People's lives depend on that. On us. Learn the facts of melanoma. And when presenting about melanoma don't just pull the UV card and push sunscreen and advocate for staying out of tanning beds. There are literally thousands of people that doesn't apply to and they are getting melanoma too and more will follow.

Information is available. Use it. Learn it. Teach it.

Make people grateful!