About Melanoma in Young Adults

ABC, Easy as 123…

Prom is coming and the cutie you have been eyeing asks you out.  It is the time to go to the tanning bed to look your best.  Next, summer is coming along with Beach Week.  You’re young without a care in the world—it is your oyster, after all.  You graduate and cram all night for your college classes while attending parties.  It is a balancing act of having a life and getting an education.  Life is carefree; you are resilient.  

Greg’s world came to a screeching halt when he found out he had melanoma.  He later found out that a small purple skin pigmentation on his leg that came and disappeared just as quickly could have been the source of his melanoma when he was in high school.  How was he to know that was was a sign?  He was busy being a kid and having fun.  As his sister, I watched him drive off with the roof down to Beach Week in his Miata basking in the sun without a care.  

There are many predisposed traits that can increase a risk of getting melanoma.  Greg’s fair skin, red hair, green eyes, and love of the sun and outdoors did not help, but how was he to know that he had to worry about something like cancer when he was so young?  Unbeknownst to him, he also had a genetic mutation that increased his risk of melanoma. 

Luckily, there are a few things that can be done early on to help with early detection and prevention.  Of course, please wear sunscreen.  Baz Luhrmann gave sound advice when he preached this and we all should abide by it.  Put on at least SPF 15 that protects against UVB and UVA rays about 20 minutes before you know you’ll be outdoors and in the sun.  Don’t even think for a second that if it is cloudy out that you won’t need anything!  You can get sunburn when it is cloudy, snowy, in the pool, and other places and conditions you wouldn’t think.  The sun will reflect off these surfaces and still put you at risk for sunburns.  Long sleeves and pants can help block some sunrays as well as sunglasses and hats.  Dress appropriately based on what you’re doing.  Also, you can avoid the sunrays between 10am-4pm when they are at their strongest. 

To help keep yourself in check, it is great to remember the alphabet to check your body monthly to ensure you can identify changing moles or skin pigmentations that can mutate into melanoma.  When trying to figure out what to look for, remember ABCDE or Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolution.  All of these can help identify something your body is trying to tell you.  It is great to get a yearly exam by a professional as well.  Granted, it may be uncomfortable to have someone scouring your body looking for flaws in your moles, the lifesaving measures will be well appreciated down the road.  For me, I always tell myself, “I cannot possibly be the worst this doctor has ever seen.”  So, don’t worry too much.  It will be over before you know it and don’t forget to tell the doctor if you find something unusual.  Remember-they don’t see your body as much as you do, so you have to appoint yourself as the person to speak for it.  

If detected early enough, skin cancer has an almost 100% five-year survival rate.  Protecting skin during the first 18 years of life can reduce the risk of some types of cancer by up to 78% (Play it safe, 2006).  When you’re young, you never realize how your behavior can affect your future years more than you could imagine.  Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second-most-common cancer in adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old (Melanoma Fact Sheet, 2010). 

This wasn’t meant to scare you.  It is meant to inform you of something you can do for yourself now to help you in the future.  I’m only 22, and I have heard it all.  We aren’t indestructible.  Even though you think it doesn’t matter and you want to die young anyway, think about how your mind can change once you have kids, a family, and a wife.  Greg only wanted the simple things in life.  He didn’t know that he wouldn’t get the chance at doing those things, so please take care, and take luck.  

Believe in Zebras.  Believe in Miracles.  We do. 
For those already trying to Google the Baz song...


(2010).  Melanoma Fact Sheet.  Retrieved (April 28, 2010) from http://www.aad.org/media/ background/factsheets/fact_melanoma.html
(2006).  Play it Safe.  Retrieved (May 1, 2010) from http://www.melanoma.com/ sun_safety.pdf