Skin Cancer Screening
So it’s that time of year again when we enjoy the outdoors and soak up the sun. For me and other melanoma survivors, it’s a time to remember how fortunate we are to have detected and successfully treated our skin cancer.
I just completed the paperwork required for my dermatology visit. Because I’m seeing a new practitioner, the forms are more involved than my past visits. And I must confess—I’ve put off this appointment longer than I should have, considering we moved to Arizona more than 2 years ago. I don’t foresee any problems because I’m keenly aware of any skin changes. However, a complete dermatology exam is important, especially for me. I had a wake-up call 21 years ago when I was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer.
It started when I noticed a small but dark mole on my inner thigh that seemed to appear overnight. I went to my primary care provider who dismissed it. But I persisted and told him my background, explaining how I’m accustomed to noticing such changes in the oral cavity. At my request, a biopsy was performed and when it came back positive for melanoma, my physician was extremely apologetic. Additional surgery ensued to make sure the lesion hadn’t metastasized.
Because I caught it so early, I was lucky. At the time, some inroads were being made in melanoma treatment, but it was still a rather grim prognosis if the cancer had progressed beyond the initial stage. Two decades later, survival rates are still best when skin cancer is detected in its earliest stage (95% for 10 years at stage 1A and 10% to 15% for 10 years at stage IV).1Traditional treatment options include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Immunotherapy has shown promise for certain types of melanoma, including advanced stage disease. But the newest and most exciting type of therapy specifically targets melanoma cells, resulting in less severe side effects. Targeted therapies stunt or halt the growth of melanoma cells by focusing on various gene mutations that occur. One new therapy makes treatment more personal—a vaccine tailored to a patient’s own tumor that stimulates the immune response to destroy the cancer cells.2
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2017 approximately 87,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed and about 9,700 people will die.3In spite of educational initiatives and increased awareness of sun safety, the rates of melanoma have been rising over the past 30 years. Natural sunlight is obviously a risk factor, but tanning beds also contribute to the rising melanoma prevalence. And while basal cell and squamous cell cancers are more common, melanoma is deadly because it spreads more readily. Early detection is key.
So it’s that time of year again when we enjoy the outdoors and soak up the sun. For me and other melanoma survivors, it’s a time to remember how fortunate we are to have detected and successfully treated our skin cancer. And our hope is that everyone makes skin cancer prevention and early detection a priority.
Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief
- American Cancer Society. Survival Rates for Melanoma Skin Cancer, by Stage. Available at: cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates-for-melanoma-skincancer-by-stage.html. Accessed July 17, 2017.
- GEN News Highlights. Melanoma Neoantigen Vaccine Shows Strong Antitumor Response. Available at: genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/melanoma-neoantigen-vaccine-shows-strong-antitumorresponse/ 81254611?utm_medium=newsletter&utm_source=GEN+News+Highlights+of+the+Week&utm_content=01&utm_campaign=GEN+News+Highlights+of+the+Week_20170708. Accessed July 17, 2017.
- American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Melanoma Skin Cancer. Available at: cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/about/key-statistics.html Accessed July 17, 2017
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. August 2017;15(08):8.