Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Myths And Realities Of Melanoma And Skin Cancer

Other people get skin cancer. Other people get melanoma. It's just skin cancer! No big deal! After all, it's just skin! Shoot! They have plenty of that and it grows back and heals really fast. Something pops up just cut it off, maybe use a stitch or two. Bing, bang, boom and it's all over and done with and their life goes on. No big deal! I mean, what's the worst that can happen to them? A little scar? Who me? Me get melanoma or skin cancer? Me, nah. That happens to other people. People who sun or tan. They asked for it. I've never done any of that.

I hope you enjoyed that little stab at writing a piece of malignant neoplasmic mythology. Let's unpack the popular myths found in it, for they abound!

Myth: Other people get skin cancer or melanoma.
Reality: We are all "other people"! I am the only person in the whole wide world that does not consider me to be other people! The same is true of each of us. We are all "other people" or "somebody else" to everybody else on the face of the planet. Since "other people" get melanoma or skin cancer, that means any of us can get it. Any. Of. Us.
Reality: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation:
  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually.
  • Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.
  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
  • Over the past 31 years, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
  • Nearly 800,000 Americans are living with a history of melanoma and 13 million are living with a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer, typically diagnosed as basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma
  • One in 50 men and women will be diagnosed with melanoma of the skin during their lifetime.
  • An estimated 76,250 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the US in 2012, with an estimated 9,180 to result in death.
  • One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 62 minutes).
  • Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.
For more statistics, facts, and figures; more realities, go here.

Myth: It's just skin cancer!
Reality: While it's true that basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers begin on the surface, in the skin, that's not always true of melanoma...which is why I don't lump it in with other skin cancers. But organizations and medicine still do, so, here I am and I'm saying melanoma is NOT "just" skin cancer. It can begin in the eye, the mouth, an ear canal, the rectum, the vagina, under nail beds, there are many people with melanoma but with no known primary and it's already in their major organs (not skin) when they are diagnosed. Even when melanoma does begin in the skin or moles, it can spread to major organs easily once it hits either the lymphatic system or blood stream. It is not just skin cancer. Even skin cancer is not just skin cancer. It's disfiguring and scarring. Other kinds, like squamous cell, can still be fatal.  (Note to self: self, get off soapbox).

Myth: No big deal! It's just skin and there's plenty of that to go around. Cut whatever it is off, stitch it up and we're good to go.
Reality: Our skin is our largest organ. It's a big deal. Squamous cell skin cancer can be fatal. Melanoma is deadly. Then there's Merkel Cell Carcinoma. Any skin cancer, or potential skin cancer, has to be removed and that means scarring. Any kind can recur. And a history of either basal cell or squamous cell increases the risk of getting melanoma.

Myth: It heals really fast!
Reality: Ha! A full millimeter of tissue has to be removed under a suspected melanoma and inches up, down, and around the site. My little mole left about a 6 inch long scar. They have to remove enough that the skin must be pulled together so that the incision is TIGHT. And down to the bone. Can we say concave? Hole? My tissue was removed in two separate procedures, to get the required full mm, back in July and then August 2008. Almost four years ago, and the place hasn't completely filled in YET! But, on the bright side, it's not noticeable because my compression sleeve hides the dent in my arm. Lymphedema set in very fast for me.

Myth: Melanoma or skin cancer happens only to people who sun or tan, which usually means that we tend to think in terms of Caucasians as the only people who get it.
Reality: Tanning in the sun and/or tanning bed definitely increases the risk of melanoma and skin cancer dramatically, BUT, huge "but" here, there are people with these cancers that have never tanned or been burned. It happens. And while the number of cases is definitely higher in the Caucasian population, ALL races and ethnicities are at risk. All of them. Have skin, eyes, a mouth, a rectum, major organs? Well, if you do, and that IS all of us, you're at risk. Stay alert to your body and get changes checked out. For further reading about other races getting these cancers, read this.

Myth: People who engage in skin damaging behaviors ask for melanoma. Even worse, they deserve it.
Reality: That's a very hurtful judgement to make about anyone. Nobody asks for, or deserves any type of cancer. People who tan are often still under the false assumption that tanning is good for you and therefore, healthy. They don't understand that the "tan" glow is actually a sign of damaged skin, not healthy skin. People who tan, either in the sun or in tanning coffins, uh, beds, have bought  a pack of lies and are investing their health and life in activities that reap dire consequences. I've blogged about that plenty here, though, feel free to search my posts.

Myth: Not me.
Reality: Read the above.

And be grateful that you can. Now, go and make all proper life and attitude adjustments.