At the peak of summer, families across the country are preparing for beach trips, sunny outings and excursions in the great outdoors. While protecting the skin against harmful UV rays may not make the top of the packing list, it’s certainly something to take into consideration. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with nearly one million Americans developing skin cancer each year. Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, is the most serious form.
As July is UV Awareness Month, it’s only natural to spotlight an organization fighting skin cancer head on: Atlanta’s Emory Winship Cancer Institute. The institute is Georgia’s first and only cancer center designated by the National Cancer Institute, with more than 30 cancer teams joining researchers, physicians, epidemiologists, nurses, engineers and social workers in an effort to prevent, treat, and control cancer.
The melanoma team alone consists of a multidisciplinary cancer team, featuring members from dermatology, medical-oncology, radiation-oncology, surgical-oncology and ophthamology.
Dr. Navneet Dhillon, Assistant Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory, has been a member of this melanoma dream team since March 2010. She says no two days at Emory are the same. Dhillon spends her time treating patients, teaching medical students, and working on developing research.
"Our team meets each week for what we call the Melanoma Tumor Board to review and discuss patient cases and treatment plans. This means that patients benefit from the expertise of a full team of medical experts, all working together to develop the best treatment plan for our patients." Dhillon says while the exact cause of melanoma skin cancer is not known, there are certain risk factors linked to the disease, including too much exposure to UV radiation, certain types of moles on the skin, as well as fairness of the skin, or having a family history of melanoma.
"Catching melanoma early is critical in our ability to treat it," Dhillon says. "Catching cancer before it has a chance to spread increases the chances of stopping it in its tracks. Melanoma is one of the few cancers which are deadly, even when it is very small."
With the team’s designation as a Melanoma Center of Excellence by the Melanoma Hope Network (http://www.melanomahopenetwork.org/), a network dedicated to helping those affected by melanoma, the Emory team is certainly on the right track towards combating this deadly skin cancer.
“We are honored by this designation. It means a tremendous amount to us to be recognized by an organization like the Melanoma Hope Network,” Dhillon says. “Our melanoma team is committed to working closely with our patients and their family members, and providing the best possible treatment and care. We place great value on communication, research and education.”
And while avoiding the sun altogether on your summer trips may not be feasible, Dhillon suggests these tips for covering up while outdoors.
“The best protection is staying out of the sun, and wearing appropriate clothing in the sun, such as wide brimmed hats and full sleeve shirts. Sunscreens are not usually the first line of defense and do not guarantee complete protection from UV radiation, even when used correctly.”
For more information regarding the Emory Winship Cancer Institute, or the Melanoma Team at Emory, visit http://winshipcancer.emory.edu/ or call 404-778-1900.
Understand the facts about Melanoma
Melanoma skin cancer accounts for only 5% of all skin cancers but it has the greatest potential to spread to other parts of the body and therefore, the highest mortality. The best chance for a cure is early detection, prompt removal, and close follow-up care.
• Protect your skin - Know your skin type and how easily you can burn
• Know your area’s daily UV index – find it on the National Weather Service’s site
• When outside: slather on sunscreen and seek shade
Early signs of melanoma are changes to the shape or color of existing moles or in the appearance of a new lump anywhere on the skin. Use the common mnemonic ABCDE when examining the shape of the mole, which stands for:
2. Borders (irregular)
3. Color (variegated)
4. Diameter (greater than 6 mm (0.24 in), about the size of a pencil eraser)
5. Evolving over time
—Courtesy of the Melanoma Hope Network