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Uncovering the Myths About Melanoma

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Published on July 7, 2015

Melanoma is not just a skin cancer. It is a cancer that can be found in the mouth and in the eye. This is just one myth that is uncovered in this educational segment. Dr. Sapna Patel, Dr. Michael Wong and Dr. Mark Gimbel share their expertise about sun habits, tanning, ultraviolet radiation and facts on the disease itself. Dr. Patel reminds us how our natural skin is beautiful just the way it is. Dr. Gimbel discusses how important it is to protect children from the sun properly to prevent any type of melanoma in their future. Dr. Wong encourages everyone that with education and awareness we can help the statistics of melanoma to stop increasing and to begin decreasing.

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Transcript | Uncovering the Myths About Melanoma

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That's how you’ll get care that's most appropriate for you.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.             

Andrew Schorr:

Are there some things you thought were true and you found out are not?

Martha Bishop:

Yes. Skin cancer is not just skin cancer.  I remember my mom earlier saying melanoma is the bad skin cancer. But until I was really diagnosed with it, honestly, I watched that mole on my back change color. And I had a 2-year-old and thought I don’t have time to deal with this.  They’ll just cut it off. 

Andrew Schorr:                  

Dr. Wong, is there one you think of?

Dr. Wong:             

I just want to pick up on what Dr. Gimbel said, which is, basically, patients come in, even with stage IV despondence, saying, “That’s it. I’m going to die. It’s all over.” And I remind them that there are two C words: the cancer word and cure. And by cure, I want to define that so that we all are on the same page, which is we treat you.

Your cancer disappears completely and forever.  And that’s a possibility that’s happening consistently I wish in more people. But it’s still consistently happening in melanoma today.  So maybe not a myth or misconception, but today, it’s not the same as yesterday.  And that’s the thing that’s exciting about melanoma and really hopeful about melanoma.

Andrew Schorr:                  

Dr. Patel, any myth you want to debunk?

Dr. Patel:               

Yeah. Sometimes, I think patients are afraid of getting a second opinion and that it will offend their doctor or their oncologist. That’s really not true.  You are most empowered when you get another opinion. It doesn’t help you to vet those doctors against each other. Oncologists are good-hearted people.  They really do want you to have the best outcome. T.J. knows this firsthand, if the best outcome is us saying, “I don’t have the option for you, but I know who does. Let me get on the phone and call them,” you shouldn’t be afraid to ask the doctor is there a better option somewhere else?

And you shouldn’t be afraid to tell them, “I’m just going to get a second opinion, and I’ll come back in a month and double-check with you.”

Andrew Schorr:                  

Just one question though.  If I were diagnosed with melanoma, I’d want to go to you if I could have it cut out because I want the cancer out of my body if it can be. Second opinion though, somebody says doctor with let’s say a more advanced melanoma says we should do this, and you’re going to try to get a second opinion but maybe can’t get it tomorrow, is melanoma such that you have a little bit of time? Or give us a timeframe.

Dr. Patel:               

That’s hard. Obviously, that depends on each patient’s velocity and how aggressive their skin cancer is moving. Patients know that. I mean, you get a sense wow, this lesion is getting bigger in a matter of a week. But it is something where you’re going to feel most comfortable if you feel like you weren’t rushed into that decision.  You had time to think about that decision.

If that time allowed, you had time to go get a second opinion. When it comes to upfront surgery, it’s probably reasonable to go get a second opinion within a matter of a few weeks. You can probably speak to that more if there’s maybe a tighter window.  For stage IV disease or advanced disease, we don’t have to start therapy that next day that we see a patient. In fact, at MD Anderson, we’ve noticed that our average time to do a workup is two to three weeks, and then therapy usually starts in weeks 3 or 4.  In that time, you have time to go get a second opinion.  

Dr. Gimbel:          

And cancer didn’t start yesterday.  That cancer has been growing for a little while, so is another week going to make a difference? Well, you have to decide how much time will make a difference. But a week or two weeks should be enough time to get another opinion.  And I think any doctor who tries to tell you not to get a second opinion, that’s when you want to go get another opinion.

Andrew Schorr:                  

And any myth you want to debunk as a surgeon?

Dr. Gimbel:          

I’ve got two myths I want to debunk—not necessarily as a surgeon—but suntans aren’t beautiful. That’s my first myth. The second myth is tanning beds are not healthy.

The vitamin D you need to get is from the sun for the 10 minutes you’re out a day is enough. You don’t need to go sit under a tanning bed. 

Andrew Schorr:                  

Okay. Tell your kids. I’m going to let you be on a soapbox for a second, Dr. Patel.  We spoke about this at dinner last night. You feel that the people here affected by melanoma and the ones watching, can we be evangelists? Because we do have people tanning. Maybe you, your children, your grandchildren, fashion, you have a suntan, whatever it may be.  Or they’re out at the beach a lot and no sunscreen or very little. What do you want to say in helping bring this story forward?

Dr. Patel:               

You probably already know this, but melanoma is on the rise. It’s not declining. Breast cancer is declining over the last 30 years with the increased use of mammograms. Lung cancer is declining with the use of the Surgeon General’s warning and removing it from public advertisements.  Cervical cancer is decreasing.  Melanoma is increasing.

And right now, one patient every hour dies in the U.S. from melanoma. That number is increasing. And so you are empowered really to tell others just what Dr. Gimbel said. Sun tanning is not healthy.  You get enough vitamin D either in foods, nutrition, or going for your little bit of walk with the dog or you’re checking the mail every night. But you want to tell the kids out there this is a disease of young adults really. And interestingly, our audience does not have a lot of young adults in it, which tells us they’re not listening.  The young adult population is not listening. They need better sun protection and sun habits.

And so what you can do is really be the best advocate.  There are a lot of really good online tools to help you.  There’s a public service announcement called Dear 16-Year-Old Me that is melanoma patients saying, “Listen, if I knew what I was doing to my skin was going to cause this, I would tell my teenage self to do differently.”

And then there’s another one, Pale Is Beautiful, which is really just meant to say that your natural skin is beautiful whatever it comes in, whatever freckles or shape or color it comes in, it’s beautiful.  And you don’t have to augment that with harmful maneuvers that aren’t going to harm you today; they may not harm you tomorrow but down the road can be deadly.  

 

Andrew Schorr:                  

Here is a guy who went to the Jersey Shore, didn’t use sunscreen probably, right? 

T.J. Sharpe:          

Obviously, not enough.

Andrew Schorr:                  

Not enough. He wasn’t hanging out with Snookie, by the way.  And here years later, this developed.  So you have to take those precautions. And you all affected by this can tell your family members.  

Dr. Gimbel:          

One of the most important things is protecting the children because a burn, as a child, their skin is not prepared to handle the insult from that ultraviolet radiation. Children need to be protected, and that’s where it begins. And that’s probably the biggest risk that your children are going to have to develop a melanoma later on in life. 

Dr. Wong:             

Just like smoking, right? It used to be smoking was cool, and it was the thing to do. And with education and public health initiatives and things like this, people have shifted completely a 180 from that. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.