2009-05-28 / Local & State

Pa. Foundation Promotes ABCDEs Of Skin Cancer


GLENMOORE, Pa. (AP) - The weather is changing. It's getting warmer, with longer and longer days. Soon enough there will be baseball games, barbecues and trips to the beach. You might think to yourself, here in a few weeks, I'll have a nice base for a good tan for the summer - a nice, dark look, maybe tan lines, maybe not. You might even be OK with one sunburn; those things do happen and it's no problem, right?

Well, Catherine Poole's answer would definitely be a loud and clear "NO!'' Poole is the president and founder of the Melanoma International Foundation, located in Glenmoore, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Poole has made raising awareness about melanoma her life's work. And with statistics like these - "Melanoma is the most common cancer in women ages 25-29 and second only to breast cancer in women 30-34,'' and "one person dies every hour from melanoma'' - which can be found on the Melanoma International Foundation Web site at www.safefromthesun.org,it makes sense that Poole is dedicated to her cause. It's a cancer she beat 20 years ago. She took her experience and decided to share and help those that also suffer from the cancer.

Melanoma, though, isn't synonymous with skin cancer. Melanoma is formed in pigment cells in your skin, explains Dr. Bruce Brod, a dermatologist and oncologist with the University of Pennsylvania Health System who lives in Downingtown, about 30 miles west of Philadelphia. Other types of skin cells form in other cells. Although there are multiple types of skin cancer, "melanoma is fairly common,'' he said.

Melanoma, Brod said, "is the ugly duckling spot.'' If you see a spot on your skin, anywhere on your skin, that is new, he recommends having it checked. The acronym to keep in mind is ABCDE, which stands for asymmetry, borders, color, diameter and evolving. If you have spots on your skin that are asymmetrical, have dark borders, are different in color than others (blue, brown, gray) have a large diameter or change, there's a good chance you have melanoma.

And early detection is key. If caught early, the survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent, according to the Melanoma International Foundation. Problems arise when it's not detected and it metastasizes. If it's caught early, it usually can be cured with simple outpatient surgery.

Poole founded the Melanoma International Foundation after her bout with melanoma. While trying to learn about the type of skin cancer she had, she discovered there wasn't a lot of information on it. She decided to change that.

With experience as a freelance writer, she decided to write a book. She was diagnosed and treated in 1989, published her first book in 1998 and founded the organization soon after. Her goal was and is to educate the public. "I help people understand melanoma,'' she said. "I'm a patient navigator.''

To help patients, Poole makes herself available to offer as much support and advice as she can. She's helped patients find the right doctors and hospitals, as well as been a friend to victims.

Through the Melanoma International Foundation, Poole staffs a hot line that she will always answer. "Even when I'm on vacation, I have to answer the hot line,'' she said. The toll-free number for the hot line is (866) 463-6663.

Part of being an adviser and friend for melanoma patients and their families, for Poole, is an annual event sponsored by the Melanoma International Foundation, held simultaneously at sites in Seattle, Phoenix and 27 other locations across the country and Canada, including Villanova University in southeastern Pennsylvania. "We like to spread our message through the grass roots,'' Poole said.

"It's a time for patients and families to come together and be honored.'' Event days, Poole joked, are long, long days. They start around 5 a.m. after weeks of preparation, and "my husband finally unplugs the phone around 9 p.m.''

But when you're passionate, it's easy to put in long hours. As Poole says over and over, education and early detection are key. "We're going to find melanoma early and save lives.'' The other part of education, according to Poole, is to teach people how to avoid getting melanoma in the first place.

The sun is an obvious culprit. Although there is sunscreen, with the sun's harsh UV rays, it's fairly ineffective after a short period of time and although advertised as waterproof, your best bet is to always reapply - always and often. The best advice, she said, is to avoid being in direct sun in the middle of the day. Find a way to be inside, or at least in the shade, she recommends. She also points out, at the beach, UV rays will reflect off the water and sand.

"If you're a sun worshipper,'' Poole said, "examine yourself - a lot.''

However, it's not just the sun you have to worry about. "There is a direct correlation between (tanning) salons and melanoma,'' Poole said. According to Poole, 15 minutes in a tanning bed equals a full day of being in the sun.

Brod equates the statistic that melanoma is the most common cancer in women ages 25-29 to what he calls the "suntan image'' that is popular today. To our culture, a tan is healthy and attractive, whether from the sun or the salon.

"The increase in melanoma in comparison to breast cancer is a relatively new phenomena,'' Brod said, pointing out that tanning salons are also relatively recent. And according to Poole, there are no health regulations or monitoring systems in place to protect or warn potential salon tanners.

Both Poole and Brod recommend routine self-checkups, looking for the ABCDEs of melanoma. "Most new melanomas,'' Brod said, "are detected by people and not the doctor.''

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