I got a call last week. The voice was unfamiliar, but the anxiety and frustration was well known to my heart. It was a mom who just found out her 14 year old daughter had melanoma; a stranger calling from California, frightened and frustrated about the lack of information offered by her daughter’s dermatologist. An in situ melanoma was found in a mole her daughter had since birth. It was on an area of her breast that always well covered. Her daughter never tanned. The mole didn’t even look unusual! How could this happen?
I told her that “surprise” factor was the nature of adolescent melanoma and her story was all too familiar. Melanoma in young people simply is not the same as adult melanoma which is why it is so often missed or misdiagnosed in young people. Fortunately, they found it quite early on her daughter and follow-up surgery was already scheduled. This California mom shared that she was thrilled to find The Claire Marie Foundation website, our research and possibly some answers about her daughter’s melanoma; the disease the medical professionals ignorantly believed her daughter was too young to get.
Calls such as this validates the mission of the Claire Marie Foundation. We wish someone had been there to warn us about the risk of melanoma in adolescents, children and young adults. We wish someone would have compiled and shared the warning signs and the nuances of detection. We especially wish we had faster access to removal of any and all atypical moles since melanoma grows faster and is more invasive in young people.
It takes more than sunscreen to stop this form of melanoma. Routine screening and early detection is the key, but getting a dermatological appointment can be the problem with an average wait time of three months.
Thats why the Claire Marie Foundation partners with top dermatologists to offer free skin screenings to young people. In 2017, we hosted four free screening events in April and May to anyone between the ages of 8-21 years old. Of the nearly 300 young people screened, 10% were found to have atypical moles with biopsy recommended for suspicion of melanoma. Happily, that is a decrease from our 2016 screenings, were dermatologists found 20% of the 120 young people screened had atypical moles with biopsy recommended.
These figures prove our awareness and prevention programs are working. Knowing melanoma can develop genetically or due to hormonal changes in puberty and pregnancy, screening is the best way to catch the disease before it develops – when a mole is just atypical or beginning to change. Remove the mole – remove the risk.
Equally important is the need to maintain a healthy, sun-safe, preventive lifestyle! Ditch the tanning booths, keep slathering on the sunscreen and invest in some UPF50 clothing. Do it all with style and a smile, and #LiveLifeLikeClaire!