Melanoma Prevention

Continued …

Many of you know that I have had two malignant melanoma surgeries (January, 1969, and October, 1970 (Please read my book, Cancer Sucks A True Story) and was considered a cancer survivor after five years. I was cancer free until 2006 when diagnosed with colon cancer. But regardless of the elapsed time, I have checked my body daily for changes to pigmented areas of my skin. I am now seeing a dermatologist that readily admits that Agent Orange, because of the changing attitude among physicians pertaining to what can and cannot cause melanoma, can also be added to the list of already known causes of this deadly cancer. Though many dermatologists still hold true to their original beliefs, it is refreshing to my spiritual well-being that there are some that now validate what I have believed for decades.

Prevention is certainly better than having to go through diagnosis and treatment of any type of cancer. So, pertaining to skin cancer, especially melanoma, the following is a list of possible preventative measures that can help us eliminate melanoma.

• Limit exposure to UV radiation, especially between 10 am and 4 pm, including UV from sunlight and artificial sources.

• Use a broad spectrum sunscreen for UV and UVA with a SPF of at least 30. Apply one ounce (a normal shot glass for most of my friends and family) of sunscreen approximately 15 to 20 minutes before going into the sun. Reapply every few hours after exposure to water through swimming and/or sweating.

• Seek shade whenever possible. If you can stay out of the sun for long periods of time, do so. Even with sunscreen prolonged exposure should be avoided.

• Where protective clothing when possible; long-sleeve shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hat, and wraparound sunglasses that block UV rays.

• Use caution near reflective environments; water, snow, sand, concrete, tanning devices (like some of us did as teenagers with tin foil), etc.

• Do not burn. Severe burns, especially during childhood, increase chances for basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Just one blistering sunburn can double the chance later in life.

• Get plenty of Vitamin D from a healthy diet (a future blog on cancer and nutrition).

• Check medications to see if they can increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight. This applies to over-the-counter drugs as well as prescriptions. Check with your physician and/or pharmacist if you are unsure.

• Regular self exams.

• At least a yearly checkup with a physician or dermatologist.

• Keep newborns out of the sun. Use sunscreen on babies only after they are six months old, or ask your physician for advice.

• Keep your immune system healthy (a future blog exploring immunotherapy).

Please check your skin on a regular basis. It can save your life, or the life of someone you love. And what is better than living longer than expected, and enjoying it.

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The following are warning signs, the ABCDEs of melanoma from The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Moles, brown spots and growths on the skin are usually harmless — but not always. Anyone who has more than 100 moles is at greater risk for melanoma. The first signs can appear in one or more atypical moles. That’s why it’s so important to get to know your skin very well and to recognize any changes in the moles on your body. Look for the ABCDE signs of melanoma, and if you see one or more, make an appointment with a physician immediately.

A – Asymmetry

The benign mole is not asymmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle, the two sides will match, meaning it is symmetrical. If you draw a line through a cancerous mole, the two halves will not match, meaning it is asymmetrical, a warning sign for melanoma.

B – Border

A benign mole has smooth, even borders, unlike melanomas. The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.

C – Color

Most benign moles are all one color — often a single shade of brown. Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, white or blue.

D – Diameter

Benign moles usually have a smaller diameter than malignant ones. Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the eraser on your pencil tip (¼ inch or 6mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.

E – Evolving
Common, benign moles look the same over time. Be on the alert when a mole starts to evolve or change in any way. When a mole is evolving, see a doctor. Any change — in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.

Please don’t ignore any of these warning signs. Our lives are important to those that love us, which should have some influence on how we live our lives. We, as a caste, are living longer. And if we are living longer, it just makes sense to be in as good of shape as possible as we age. Let’s enjoy the lives we have, but let’s grow older gracefully, and healthy.

To be continued …

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I realized this past weekend that most everything I post on Facebook is cancer related, a topic that is not enjoyable reading until there is some need for it in our lives. I totally understand and respect this. However, when I first began posting information on cancer it was because I believed it was something I could do to contribute to this world, even if it was on a small scale. I believed then, and I still do, that if only one person benefited from what I wrote, it was worth it.

I am not the greatest writer or the one who has all of the answers, but what I write is from my heart. I have always invited comments, not for myself, but because someone might have an experience to share that will help others. If we share, we help. And perhaps there is no better way for others to learn about prevention, diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, recovery, chemo days, five-year survival rates, mental, emotional and spiritual challenges, and caregiving than from cancer victims and survivors, rather than from oncologists, physicians, or medical personnel that generally have not had a cancer experience of their own.

Although Labor Day signals the end to summer, there are still plenty of hot days and UV rays in the forecast for many areas around the world. So I will continue with skin cancer.


The past two posts on skin cancer highlighted some “do and don’ts” to prevent and detect Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma. While these cancers can sometimes be fatal, by far the most dangerous and life threatening is melanoma.

Melanoma usually begins in melanocytes, cells that are part of pigmented areas, such as moles and freckles that appear to be normal. When melanoma begins, changes are recognizable in the pigmented area. Thus, early detection and treatment are a vital part of limiting the spread of this fast growing cancer.

As for me, especially after having malignant melanoma twice, colon cancer, and many basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, I check my body daily for changes to any pigmented area on my skin. It is part of my daily regime, a way of life. If the pigmented areas are on my back, head, neck, or any part of my skin I cannot see, my wife is a willing partner with my screening. Sometimes, she will take pictures of a certain area with my cell phone, as I can enlarge the photo and get a better understanding of what it looks like.

I hope this daily examination can be part of your life as well. It could save your life or someone you love.

To be continued …

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Fighting Leukemia

An update on my friend in Vermont who has been fighting cancer for many months now.

“Another month, another trip to Dana Farber in the books. All of my blood readings were good this month, except my EOS reading, which has climbed tp 33%! Should be below 6%. Talked the doctor about it and he says it could be a number of things, one of which is early signs of graft vs host disease, which is where my body rejects the transplant. He is going to keep me on the anti rejection meds for another month and then we will revisit the numbers on my next blood draw. On a better note, I started my first round of getting my childhood immunizations. One step closer to getting back to a normal life. Still shooting for an October date for releasing me entirely from isolation.”

A response from his wife.

“Hey fb friends. Here is Guy’s update from his doctors visit in Boston today.
My personal feeling is that his eos number is high due to allergies because he isn’t showing any signs of graft verses host. So will have to see if his eos number drops once we get a frost”

These friends are both great examples of never giving up. I know they will continue to be strong and fight for the right to live what they believe is their normal life. Life is very precious so enjoy every moment. And just like my Vermont friends, when faced with fighting cancer (or any health issues) Never, Ever, Quit.

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Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This cancer is usually considered the second most common type of skin cancer, approximately 20 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers. They develop from the flat, squamous cells that are the primary cell type making up the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis.

This type of skin cancer is usually found on areas of the skin that have been exposed to the sun, such as the neck, ears, face, head, lips, or on the back of the hand, but they can develop in other areas, such as in scars or skin ulcers or in the genital region. Squamous cell cancers usually grow slowly, and it is uncommon for them to spread, or metastasize, but they are more likely than basal cell carcinomas to invade fatty tissue beneath the skin or to spread even further.

The following are some general warning signs:

  • A new growth or spot that increases in size, shape, and/or color, or a sore that does not heal within 4 to 8 weeks.
  • A bump or nodule on the skin that feels rough to the touch.
  • A bump that becomes dome-shaped, and /or crusty, and/or often bleeds. It can also heal, and then return and be rough, dry, and/or scaly.
  • A bump that is painful when rubbed.
  • A slow-growing flat reddish patch.
  • Constantly dry lips that could have a whitish color and/or feel scaly.
  • A wart-like elevated growth with a central depression.

As with basal cell carcinoma, this type of cancer is easily managed in the early stages. But when left untreated, it can become serious. Have fun in the sun, but also be smart. It’s always better to be safe, than sorry. So take care of yourself. And get that check-up by a dermatologist.

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Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinomas are considered the most common type of skin cancer, nearly eight out of every 10 non-melanoma skin cancers. These cancers form within the basal cell layer of the skin.

Basal cell carcinoma generally occurs in sections of the skin that receive the most exposure to the sun, like the head, neck, face, arms, and back of the hands. These cancers are usually slow growing and normally do not spread or metastasize to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body. However, the chance increases when left untreated. That is why early detection and treatment is so important.

Basal cell cancers can also return in the same place that the original cancer was found. Patients who have had basal cell carcinoma once have an increased risk of developing a new basal cell cancer elsewhere. Potentially, as many as 50 percent of these patients will develop a new basal cell carcinoma within five years of the first diagnosis.

Basal-cell carcinoma sometimes resemble non-cancerous skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. So, it is extremely important that the following warning signs be checked by a physician.

• Any open sore that bleeds, oozes, and crusts that will not heal for several weeks to a month is one of the most common signs of this disease.

• An irritated red spot usually seen on the face, neck, arms, or legs. It could be scaly, itch, and/or be painful, or at other times cause no discomfort.

• A shiny bump or nodule that can sometimes be confused with a mole. It can be pink, red, white, tan, brown, or black.

• A reddish growth, slightly elevated that is crusted and indented in the center.

• A scar-like area that is white, yellow, and/or is shiny, waxy, and with a poorly defined border. This area usually indicates the presence of an invasive basal-cell carcinoma that is larger than it appears to be on the surface.

Remember, basal-cell carcinoma is easily treated in the early stages, but the larger the infected area the more extreme the treatment. Sometimes we are our best physician when it comes to diagnosis, so please check your skin often and take any concerns to an expert immediately. It could save a great deal of pain and suffering.

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Summer and Skin Cancer

Summer is here and that means longer days, more time outdoors, hotter temperatures, stronger UV rays, and more skin cancer. Of course we all need Vitamin D, especially D-3, from the sun, but we do not need to be exposed to the sun’s UV rays the entire day to get our allotment. I, for one, love the summer and intend to get the most out of it with beach walks, golf, tennis, gardening, and grilling out. But I’ve been through too many skin cancers to ignore the danger associated with sunburns and /or over exposure to the sun.

I think we need to be smart enough to realize that a sunburn is not only painful but can be potentially harmful to our bodies. The following are some guidelines that could be helpful.
• Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
• Do not burn.
• Avoid tanning and UV tanning beds.
• Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
• Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
• Apply sunscreen all exposed areas of your body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
• Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
• Use a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
• Examine your skin head-to-toe at least once every month.
• See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

These simple guidelines can help prevent basal-cell carcinoma, squamous-cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Enjoy the summer outdoor activities, but please be smart and protect your skin.

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