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Teens and Melanoma

Carl Thornfeldt, MD, FAAD May 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine
teens and melanoma

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Lauryl, 17, couldn’t wait for senior prom. She was seeing her mother’s favorite esthetician the week before the event for a deep cleansing back treatment. It would leave her skin polished and smooth under her strapless prom gown. Lauryl’s skin glowed from the tan she had carefully cultivated at the local tanning salon, where she and a few other girlfriends regularly visited the past two winter seasons to keep up their bronze skin tone. On the bed, she placed her face in the cradle and relaxed while the steam warmed her skin. During her treatment, the esthetician began to cleanse and then stopped. “Lauryl,” her esthetician said. “Have you ever noticed this spot on your back? It sort of looks like a little scab, but it’s dark underneath, with irregular borders.”

One week after her senior prom, Lauryl was home, recuperating from Mohs surgery, with a three-inch-long scar. What looked like a tiny scab with a dark base on Lauryl’s upper back had turned out to be malignant melanoma, a cancer that spreads to lymph nodes when the tumor is not detected early and is more than 1 millimeter thick. The doctor had to remove a crusted, pigmented area with a full one-centimeter margin. Fortunately, due to her esthetician’s ability to recognize the early symptoms of melanoma, Lauryl’s cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes or vital organs.

What teens believe vs. the real story

According to a study published by J Robinson, et al, in the Archives of Dermatology in April 2008 called “Indoor Tanning Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behavior Among Young Adults From 1988–2007,” knowledge of the melanoma/skin cancer link with tanning changed from 42% in 1988 to 38% in 1994; up to 87% in 2007. Knowledge of limiting tanning to help prevent melanoma increased to 77% from 1988–1994, but decreased from 1994–2007 to 67%, which was simultaneous with an increase in the attitude that tanned skin looks better than pale skin, from 69% in 1994 to 81% in 2007. Because of this change in perception, it is more important than ever for skin care professionals to spread the word to teen clients about the dangers of sun exposure and the possibility of melanoma. Here are several common teen misperceptions about cancer and sun exposure, followed by the real story; this information should be shared with clients, teens and adults alike. (Editor’s note: To help spread the word about the truth behind sun exposure, make copies pf the PDF that can be accessed on our site at in the Web Exclusives box to provide to every client after services and to consumers at community events.)

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Skin Cancer Awareness Initiatives

Providing skin cancer awareness education for consumers—especially younger kids and teens—is incredibly important for skin care professionals, because estheticians, not physicians, are often the first point of contact with consumers of any age. Following are a variety of ways that skin care professionals can reach out to the community to provide this life-saving information.

1. Team up with a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant from a local dermatology office to provide a day of skin cancer screening to a school or other community organization; then, recommend skin care products and services that can help repair, protect and prevent sun damage.

2. Spend a day in health classes at junior highs and high schools in your local area, and teach students about the dangers of skin cancer. Bring along your skin scanner with UV lamp to show the kids what’s happening beneath their skin that isn’t visible on the surface.

3. Volunteer at a local health fair, and present a session on skin cancer awareness. Bring along a skin scanner so people can see their skin’s damage, and then make product recommendations to help address their concerns.

4. Offer to present a skin cancer awareness presentation at business luncheons attended by health or business professionals throughout your community. Make follow-up appointments to provide skin consultation with skin scanning at their own office where makeup can be removed for a better look at the skin. Nurse practitioner and physician assistant associations in your area may be a good place to start.

5. Offer to teach community education skin cancer awareness classes through your city, and also your local junior college. Inquire whether you can pass out business cards in order to get the word out about your business.

6. Many times, local sporting events, such as healthy heart walks and breast cancer walks, have a medical tent available for people to receive eye exams or hearing exams. Team up with a local dermatologist to provide skin cancer screenings and referrals.

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