The Melanoma Education Foundation: A New Approach to Skin Cancer Awareness

By: Amanda Mastrangelo, MA
Harbor Health Services, Inc.

 

Spring has finally sprung, and we all know that means summer isn’t far behind. Along with these long-awaited temporal seasons we have wedding season, prom season, and beach season: cue the base tan! It’s no wonder May is so cleverly designated as Skin Cancer Awareness Month.  Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, with more people having skin cancer than all other types of cancer combined. Over 86% of skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation (from the sun and/or tanning beds), which is why Skin Cancer Awareness Month has typically focused on prevention methods and advice like, “avoid the sun during peak times (10AM-4PM)”, “use sunscreen at all times”, and the oh-so-unrealistic adage of “don’t get a sunburn” – as if anyone does this on purpose!

While this is, of course, excellent advice, it does not address the almost 15% of skin cancers that are not caused by UV radiation. Risk factors such as family history, skin color and type, hair and eye color, and how many moles you have are not controllable or preventable. This is why the Melanoma Education Foundation, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, has taken a different approach to skin cancer awareness.

The Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) was founded in the year 2000 by Steve Fine, after he lost his son Daniel to melanoma at the age of 26. The foundation focuses on melanoma because despite accounting for less than 2% of skin cancer cases, melanoma is the second most common type of cancer in individuals aged 15-29, and is the most deadly. One of the most well-known facts about melanoma is that it is highly treatable and survivable if detected and treated early, before the cancer spreads to lymph nodes and other organs. This is why it is recommended to perform a complete self-skin exam once a month. MEF empowers young people to take control of their melanoma risk in a different way than advising them to stay out of the sun. MEF has designed free educational lesson plans and videos for health and wellness educators, with the goal of reaching young people and teaching them to check their skin for early warning signs of this deadly disease. The MEF-developed lesson, called The Melanoma Lesson, is taught in over 1300 schools in 48 states, and has saved lives by motivating both students and teachers to get something on their skin checked out. Their videos have twice won the Golden Triangle Award from the American Academy of Dermatology.

The Melanoma Education Foundation is passionate about spreading their message, and they are constantly working to identify schools and programs that would benefit from their lessons. In order to keep up their hard work, they hold an annual Calendar Raffle Fundraiser. During the month of July, there is a different prize offered for each day, and all raffle tickets sold stay in the raffle every day – even the winners! Prizes range from restaurant and grocery store gift cards, to a Tom Brady autographed football, to Red Sox Field Box tickets, to a Martha’s Vineyard weekend. Raffle tickets cost $5 each, $10 for 3, and $20 for 7. Contact Amanda at amastrangelo@hhsi.us to purchase tickets by June 24th. Help The Melanoma Education Foundation continue to make a difference in so many lives. Read more about MEF and their story here; watch their video on how to perform a skin check, and learn more about their educational program offerings here.

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