Don’t Get Blindsided! Your Thyroid and Melanoma

It was the perfect storm. When Claire was diagnosed with cutaneous melanoma at the age of 14, it absolutely blindsided us. She wore sunscreen, never tanned and got annual skin screenings. What was missed was the risk associated with hypothyroidism; a condition that can occur as a result of puberty. Claire became fully symptomatic at the age of 14; a diagnosis coinciding with drastic and quick changes in a mole that had always been prettily sitting on her ankle. A research oncologist determined the two factors meshed to create her melanoma.  Yup. The perfect storm. With that, we first learned factors other than UV sun exposure can cause melanoma in young people and fueled what is now our mission at the Claire Marie Foundation. 

Let’s break it down further. People with hypothyroidism have unhealthy high levels of thyroid stimulation hormone or TSH. Some individuals can have moles or skin lesions with receptors to TSH. When those receptors bind with TSH,  it can result in stimulated melanoma cell development. In short, the higher the TSH level, the more “food” for melanoma growth.  Here is the research report from Dr. Julie Ellerhorst of MD Anderson Cancer Center who determined the link in Claire’s case, and other research through the National Institutes of Health

Once we knew the catalyst in  Claire’s diagnosis, we closely monitored her TSH levels as part of her treatment plan, keeping her levels as low as possible through medication in addition to melanoma drug therapies. Every time her TSH level would start to rise, another mole would begin to change, become atypical and need to be removed. Frustrating? Absolutely.  But Claire accepted it as a manageable chronic condition. ” Everybody’s got something” she would say before running out the door. Little did we know. 

What does this mean to you? If you or a family member has hypothyroidism or have a history of melanoma, make sure you get a full body dermatoscope based skin screening – head to toe. Remember, melanoma can develop in areas of the body where the sun does not shine and can often be colorless! And of course, talk to your doctor.  Getting a reading on your thyroid is as easy as a blood test. 

Keep in mind that melanoma is more aggressive and invasive in adolescents and young adults and if related, can be further accelerated by TSH. Should anything look questionable, see your dermatologist right away.  If you follow our other articles, you will remember surges in testosterone and estrogen can also be contributing factors to the development of melanoma in young people along with genetic predisposition. Add to that the risk of UV sun damage and you can see the need for overall skin care. Don’t get blindsided. Take care of you and your skin. Remember; prevention is the cure when it comes to melanoma. #livelifelikeclaire



Read more

A Young Melanoma Survivor’s Nightmare: Why It Often Comes Back

There is still more evidence proving the shadow of a melanoma diagnosis never really leaves a young person. The “Beast” can and does often rear its ugly head at least once more in a survivors lifetime.

Dermatologists at the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Medicine, have just released a new study which finds patients who have survived cutaneous melanoma, especially those diagnosed in childhood, adolescent and young adulthood, are five times more likely to develop a secondary primary cancer. It is of special concern within the first year of diagnosis. 

The greatest risk is for infants; those diagnosed with melanoma before they enjoy their first  birthday cake.  The risk declines with maturity through adolescents and teens with the lowest risk among those diagnosed between the ages of 25 and 29.  However it’s important to note these survivors in young adulthood are the most susceptible to developing internal cancers.

One of the researchers, Dr. Yen Luu, M.D. says “while the incidence of primary cutaneous melanoma (CM) in children is declining and the five year survival rate is relatively high (87% – 95%), secondary cancers (SPC’s) occur in over 11% of cases, reducing overall survival outcomes.”

All this supports the need for regular follow-up, self checks and routine dermatological skin exams for melanoma survivors. At the Claire Marie Foundation we believe prevention is the cure. Educate yourself. Know your risks. Engage in sun safe practices and book annual full body skin screenings with a dermatologist. Remember, primary care physicians and pediatricians are not trained to detect melanoma and other skin cancers.  Take care of your skin. Take care of you and be aware. After all, awareness saves lives. 

You can read the full report here:

Read more

More Evidence of Why Melanoma Is of Special Risk to Young People

You’ve heard us share the statistics again and again; melanoma is one of the most common cancers in adolescents and young adults – or AYA’s as they are called. Now new research reinforces why early detection is more critical than ever.                                      

For any human, the key to beating melanoma is detection at the very earliest stage before it has spread. But researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California determined it is especially crucial when it comes to AYA patients. When found early, adolescents and young adults have a much better chance of surviving melanoma than older adults. But when melanoma has advanced to stage IV, when it is metastatic and has spread through the body, young people have only a 20% chance of surviving melanoma; a much worse rate than adults over the age of 40.

The lead researcher on the project is Dr. Katherine Y. Wojcik. Since the majority of melanoma research is focused on those over the age of 65, Dr. Wojcik felt the need to dive into the realities of the adolescent and young adult populations. ( can we just say a huge THANK YOU for that?!) According to Wojcik, “Advanced melanoma has poor survival, particularly  in AYA’s , yet information on the contributing factors remains scarce, lacking the level of detail readily available for older adult patients”. 

An earlier study by Johns Hopkins researchers found that melanoma is more aggressive and more invasive in young people than older adults.

Considering both these studies, with increased rates of diagnosis, it reinforces our belief that prevention through routine skin screening, along with other prevention methods, is a much better solution.

“To improve AYA survival, early melanoma detection is critical, Dr. Wojcik says. “Greater awareness, suspicion and screening for AYA melanoma may disrupt delays in diagnosis and reduce the excess burden of mortality from stage IV melanoma in young people.”

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why at the Claire Marie Foundation we continue to shine a light on preventing melanoma in adolescents and young adults through awareness, education and prevention. We are especially proud of our free melanoma skin screening program which has found 16% of the nearly 1,400 young people screened by our dermatological partners, needed biopsy for suspicion of melanoma.  As we say – #preventionisthecure.

#adolescentmelanoma #youngadultmelanoma #sunsafe #skinlove #skinscreenings #cancerprevention #ayacancer #ayamelanoma

Read more

Heads Up! Before You Pop a Cool One – Alcohol and Risk of Melanoma

Well, here’s a surprise!

Be careful of what you pull from that icy cooler to quench your summer thirst! New research indicates that drinking alcohol can actually make your skin burn in the sun more quickly and more severely! And it’s not just because imbibing may distract you from reapplying sunscreen as often as needed! The alcohol changes your skin on the cellular level, lowering levels of carotenoids and deregulating your immune system.  Dermatologist Dr. Niyati Sharma explains the German study. “One standard drink increases your risk of melanoma by about 20%. If you drink five beers the risk goes up by 55%”.

All this is even more reason to be smart in the sun! Pay attention to the basics! Reapply sunscreen – a shot glass size of liquid sunscreen every two hours, wear UPF50 clothing to offer added protection and get an annual skin screening! Plus – keep an eye out for any unusual changes. 

Here’s a look at the entire article!

Above all else – be smart and safe when it comes to both the sun and alcohol! Have a terrific summer!

Read more

Why is Melanoma Striking So Many Young Men?

Melanoma? It’s a girl thing. Old guys get it.  It only affects fair-skinned people. Right?  Wrong. Dead wrong.

You’ve heard us say it before; If you have skin – you are at risk for melanoma – especially adolescents and young adults who have unique hormonal and lifestyle factors which come into play. The hard truth is this; if not found early – melanoma can kill you.

This Melanoma May, we turn the spotlight on the guys! New research is focused on the surge in the number of young men  between the ages of 15 and 39 who are dying from melanoma. Between 1995 and 2014, diagnosis of melanoma in the head and neck areas increased 51%. Even more unsettling – 60% of those who died – were young men.  Men’s Health Magazine offers a deep dive into the subject!

So why are are adolescent boys and young men more at risk?

As in young people of all genders and races, hormones play a roll. In men, it’s believed surging levels of testosterone can kick-start melanoma making it more invasive and aggressive. Researchers at Oxford University found a  new link between higher levels of testosterone in the blood and increased risk of melanoma in men. Other factors are genetics, immune system and an active sun – soaked lifestyle! 13-39 year olds spend a ton of time in the sun, often without a thought to the need for sunscreen or UPF 50 protective clothing. Add to that the bad habit of visiting tanning booths ( did you know one time can increase your risk 75%? ). It all adds up!

Overall, diagnosis is up 253% in all young people in the last 40 years, making melanoma the second most common cancer in adolescents, and the most common cancer in young adults.

What can you do to protect yourself?  Plenty and it is SO simple!

  • Wear sunscreen every day! At least SPF30 and apply every two hours when out in the sun.  Don’t forget your ears and the back of your the neck. Be especially attentive to reapplying when swimming, sweating or going shirtless.
  • Invest in UPF50 clothing and hats for long days in the sun! It blocks 98% of the sun’s damaging rays from your skin. Regular clothing only blocks 6% of the UV rays.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from Occular Melanoma.
  • Check your body monthly for any skin or mole changes. Keep in mind, melanoma in young people can be colorless, pink or even look like a wart. Listen to that inner voice and make an appointment with a dermatologist should anything look unusual.
  • Get a full-body dermoscopy skin screening by a dermatologist every year.  Your general practitioner may be great, but understand that only a dermatologist is properly trained to catch any potential mole changes at the very earliest point.

There are a number of other factors that can come into play when it comes to melanoma in the adolescent and young adult population. You can learn more here  or by checking out the research section on our website

Take care of your skin. Take care of you, and be aware! Because awareness saves lives. 

Read more