Insider’s Tips for Melanoma Prevention: Make Every Day Don’t Fry Day

Don'tFryDay_logo_v2The Friday before Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. is Don’t Fry Day – a day to remember to keep your skin safe as we launch into the summer season here in the northern hemisphere.

Why you should care – the case for every day as Don’t Fry Day

Most people want to avoid getting cancer, right? How many people do you know who say, “Sure, I want to set myself up for costly visits to the doctor, scars from surgery and needing drugs that may or may not save my life and have uncertain side-effects.”

And even if you’re one of those folks who want to take the risk because it might not happen to you, you don’t want your kids, family, and friends to go through that.

Stay Shady My Friends

Melanoma is one of the most preventable cancers under the sun – pun intended. Why? Because in the vast majority of melanomas from many different patients, scientists can see that ultraviolet (UV) light caused DNA damage, and DNA damage is the number one pre-disposing factor behind cancer. Very rarely, melanomas occur without an obvious amount of UV-caused DNA damage. But that doesn’t mean that UV isn’t a major culprit in causing most melanomas. It is. And, UV rays come from two major sources in our world – sunlight and tanning beds.

In a recent article in Chicago Health magazine, Jason J Luke, MD, who treats melanoma talks about the benefits of new therapies, which while good are by no means perfect. Still an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And for skin cancer and melanoma in particular, a little effort may mean you never get a bad melanoma in the first place.

Here are some tips for protecting your skin and preventing melanoma:
• Stay in the shade whenever possible
• Avoid the sun in the middle of the day when rays are strongest
• Wear a wide-brimmed hat and other protective clothing
• Use and reapply a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen every 2 hours, and/or after swimming or excessive sweating
• Avoid tanning beds

Protect your skin – make every day Don’t Fry Day – and share with your friends and family. You could literally save a life!


Learn more about Don’t Fry Day here.

MRA Partner Feature: Neiman Marcus

By Regina Campbell

This week, we’re featuring a guest post from Regina Campbell, who is Director of Social Media for Neiman Marcus. Read more.

For some, skincare can be an afterthought. Of all the items on our to-do lists, applying SPF may not be at the top. The chaos of life often distracts us from the one thing we at Neiman Marcus consider most important—our personal health. Cancer has affected many of us in one way or another, and it’s up to us to protect ourselves as best we can.

Recently there have been tremendous advances in melanoma research, from increased attention to the disease to improved treatment options. Neiman Marcus is honored to be a part of this process, having partnered with the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) to increase awareness and fund research to help reduce the risk of melanoma.

Although genetics and increasing age can be risk factors for melanoma, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is a major risk factor for the disease. According to the MRA, melanoma is the most common cancer diagnosis in women ages 25-29 years old.

Neiman Marcus’ wide assortment of products includes many brands that strive to incorporate agents that help protect the skin from the sun for women of all ages. In fact, during June we are partnering with companies that are generously donating 10% of net proceeds of select suncare product sales to support the MRA.

But it’s not just beauty products that help shield the sun. Swimwear brand Cover addresses the need for fashionable and protective T-shirts and cover-ups for women to wear in the sun. Founder Lisa Moore launched Cover in 2008, just two years before her 22-year-old sister was diagnosed with melanoma. Since then, the line has made health a priority.

It’s increasingly important for women of all ages to understand their family history with cancer, be persistent with regular health exams, and help protect one’s skin from external harm such as the sun.

Despite the advancements made in fighting melanoma, we must still acknowledge the long road ahead. Many still downplay the seriousness of the disease with the assumption that it’s easy to treat. As someone who has a family history of skin cancer, I’m vigilant about making frequent visits to the dermatologist. Considering my personal experience with the disease, I urge all women to do the same.

Whither melanoma and whither cancer research? 

By Louise M. Perkins, PhD
Chief Science Officer, Melanoma Research Alliance

There is no doubt that the last few years have seen incredible progress for melanoma patients with 11 treatments approved since MRA’s founding in 2007: personalized medicine, targeted therapy, immunotherapy. What remains to be done for melanoma and other cancers? How are the successes in melanoma and other research areas converging on even greater progress for patients?

The answers to these questions were touched on at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in New Orleans in late April.

First – a quick comment on the AACR Annual Meeting itself. It is the largest meeting of cancer researchers from around the world and takes place during half a week.  In that time, there are many and various presentations covering basic cancer biology, translational research and clinical outcomes.

Image courtesy of AACR twitter account.

Vice President Joe Biden speaking at the 2016 AACR Annual Meeting. Image courtesy of AACR twitter account.

Starting with the opening plenary session (featuring two MRA-funded researchers) and throughout the meeting, one couldn’t help but notice how melanoma remains as the premier case study for immunotherapy – treatment that is benefiting not only melanoma patients, but also lung, kidney and blood cancer patients.  There is continuous forward progress in building beyond the status quo to expand the benefit of these new treatments to many. Meanwhile, data at the meeting revealed that 1 of 3 melanoma patients who received nivolumab were alive at 5 years. Similarly, the news was good for combination immunotherapy with early data showing that two-thirds of patients treated with the nivolumab-ipilimumab combination regimen were alive after 2 years. This is amazing!

But challenges remain. With the increased side-effects of the combination, which patients should get single-agent vs combination therapy? And what new treatments can be brought forward for those who either never benefit or whose tumors progress despite treatment whether they have melanoma or a different cancer?  Radiation therapy, new immunotherapies, different timing of treatments, new targeted therapies, biomarkers that match patients to treatments  – all of these are under study to further improve outcomes for patients.

One last note. Treating cancer is one thing, but doesn’t it sound better to never get cancer in the first place? Unfortunately, most cancers really can’t be prevented. Outcomes are improved by early diagnosis as is the case for breast and colon cancer, but we still can’t prevent most cancers (cervical cancer is a notable exception with HPV-vaccination, by the way).  But melanoma is different and this is incredibly relevant for Melanoma Awareness month. The evidence is clear: ultraviolet light causes DNA damage leading to mutations. And melanoma tumors have the most mutations of any cancer. The pattern of the melanoma mutations is clearly due to UV exposure. Further, in mouse models predisposed to melanoma, broad spectrum sunscreen profoundly decreases the number of melanomas those animals develop. And in the absence of UV light, they get very few tumors.

In practical terms, what does this mean? Basically, use UV-safe practices! Cover up, use sunscreen liberally and avoid UV light whether from the sun or tanning beds.

To paraphrase the most interesting man in the world, “Stay shady, my friends.”


About the Author

Louise M. Perkins, Ph.D., joined the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) as Chief Science Officer in 2013 where she is responsible for the development and implementation of MRA’s scientific strategy.

Guest Post from the Polka Dot Mama

This week, we’re featuring a guest post from Tracy Callahan, who founded and leads the Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation

T CallahanMy name is Tracy Callahan and I am the Founder and CEO of the Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation established in 2015.

I was first diagnosed with early stage melanoma at the age of 38, and by age 40, I had been diagnosed two more times. I am the Mom of two amazing boys ages 8 and 10 and they nicknamed me the “Polka Dot Mama” because of my many moles. I consider myself fortunate that my melanomas were caught early. I know that this is not the case for many.

As a former research nurse, I knew and understood the importance of supporting and funding research. After my third diagnosis I decided to start blogging. I knew that I wanted to use my voice to raise awareness for this often unspoken about cancer. Soon after starting my blog, I reached out to the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA).  I knew right away that I wanted to align myself with them and work towards raising money for much needed melanoma research.

In March of 2015, I began planning a Gala. I knew that I wanted it to not only benefit melanoma research, but I also wanted to stay committed to keeping it locally sourced. In addition to being a melanoma advocate, I am also a foodie!

On May 1, 2016, we will host our first annual “Taste For a Cure: Chef’s Gala Benefiting Melanoma Research.” This unique farm-to-table gala will raise money to be donated to the MRA. We have been overwhelmed with the support of our local community. It has been incredible to see local chefs, businesses and sponsors donating their time, talent and services to help us raise as much money as possible.  As of February 4 (World Cancer Day) our event is officially SOLD OUT!

In addition to the Gala, the Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation has been working with a local media company and has begun production on public service announcements as well as an awareness video that will debut at the Gala. We have been collaborating with multiple grass roots melanoma moundations across the country in hopes that together we can have a larger impact.

So many advancements have been made with the treatment options for melanoma in the last few years. It is my strong belief that we are on the cusp of not only finding more effective treatments, but also a cure.  The MRA is the largest private funder of melanoma research and I am truly honored to be a charitable ally of theirs.

A Daughter Reflects on Her Father’s Battle with Melanoma

By Samantha Stinchcomb

This week, we feature a guest post by Samantha Stinchcomb, a student at the University of Delaware. When her father succumbed to melanoma, Samantha and her family and friends founded the Wayne Stinchcomb Big Orange Foundation to raise money for melanoma research and to educate her local community about the disease and the importance of early detection.

Big Orange photo

Samantha with her dad, Wayne

At 13, while most girls were picking out a dress to wear to the 8th grade dance, I was busy picking out a quote for my dad’s tombstone. After 3 years full of long doctor appointments, harsh experimental treatments, extended hospital stays, little good news, lots of bad news, and hours of prayer, my father had lost his battle to melanoma.

It began in 2007 when my mom noticed a suspicious mole on my dad’s back. Starting with the initial dermatologist visit, my parents were always open and honest with my brother and me about what was happening. I can remember every single conversation we had after each doctor appointment or hospital visit. They tried to explain things as clearly as they could, but being only 13, I had a hard time understanding everything. In the beginning, it all seemed so simple: remove the mole and the cancer would be gone. I never expected we’d still be having those conversations three years later.

I specifically remember talking with my parents after they learned about immunotherapy. Considering I was struggling in my 8th grade science class, I didn’t really understand the concept. My mom tried to explain by comparing it to Pac-Man. She said the cells made in the lab would “eat away” at my dad’s tumors. It was our final option and, even though it was another experimental treatment, we had to have faith and pray it would work.

Initially, the treatment was going well. My once bed-ridden father, so weak he was only recognizable by his beaming smile, was becoming himself again. He was eating regularly, laughing a lot, and even leading my basketball team all the way to the championships as our coach. Christmas of 2009, my father had been declared three months No Evidence of Disease (NED) and my family couldn’t be happier.

However, just 10 short days later, our life got flipped upside down once more. My parents came home from a check-up completely silent. No one spoke but no one needed to; it was understood. The immunotherapy had been unsuccessful and the melanoma was beginning to attack other organs in my dad’s body. We were out of options and there was nothing else we could do. Three months later, at 12:37 am on April 27, 2010, I lost my father to melanoma.

Although not a day goes by where I don’t miss him, I now smile instead of cry because I know God chose my father for a reason. God knew who my father was, how many lives he touched in his short time here, and what those people were capable of. My parents’ friends founded the Wayne Stinchcomb Big Orange Foundation and has turned our tragedy into something amazing. Since Big Orange’s founding in 2010, there have been 11 new approved treatment options for melanoma, which we like to attribute in part to the $85,000 we’ve raised and donated to Melanoma Research Alliance. In addition to the funds we’ve raised, our advocacy and my father’s story has influenced many to get their skin checked and catch precancerous cells early.

People always say to me, “If only your father was diagnosed just one year later, he would’ve had treatment options,” but I don’t think about it like that. My dad was always the first one to try something new and the last one to give up. Whatever he did in life, he had to do it big and this rings true even for his battle with melanoma. The way I see it, my dad is one of the reasons all of these treatment options exist in the first place. Because of his journey and experiences with novel treatments, someone, somewhere is singing their daughter to sleep, kissing their wife goodnight, and waking up to a new day because they now have options when facing the monster that is melanoma.

Research Q&A: Dr. Tim Bullock

BullockIn the latest blog post, we chatted with the University of Virginia’s Tim Bullock, Ph.D., a tumor immunologist in the Pathology Department and MRA-funded investigator. Read on to learn what he has to say about melanoma research and prevention efforts.

Can you explain a bit about your research?

I received an Academic Industry Award from MRA, which was a fantastic segue from the more basic/translational tumor immunology we were well-versed in to getting me more exposed to (and appreciative of) the challenges and opportunities that are presented in clinical tumor immunology. It really helped establish our lab in truly translational research.

The grant led us to begin to understand what goes wrong with T cells in patients with melanoma. We’re conducting research now to look at the transcriptional basis of what’s wrong with tumor infiltrating T cells, looking at the genes that control T cell function, and what signals from the tumor microenvironment influence the expression of these genes. We’re trying to understand if we can identify critical differences in genes in T cells that are failing to control tumors compared to those that either control tumors or infections, so that once we understand them, they could either be biomarkers for effective anti PD-1 therapies or provide opportunities to complement anti-PD1 therapy.

We take a collaborative approach with investigators at UVA, so I value working with clinicians and researchers from a variety of backgrounds. We work in teams to look at how targeted therapies and more traditional chemotherapies affect newer immunotherapies to understand the cumulative effects of these treatments. The hope is that this will help us identifying rational combinations of tumor-targeting therapies that will work well with immunotherapies.

Can you explain how your research is helping making a difference for patients?

Our most recent funding, as an Established Investigator, uses a fairly novel technology called focused ultrasound. It’s a way of delivering acoustic energy, as opposed to the more traditional radiation, into tumors, with the intent of causing damage to the tumor that the immune system can respond to. It’s in early stages yet, so we need to understand how innate and adaptive immunity, and the tumor, respond to this type of “insult.” This is focusing specifically on melanoma brain metastases as there is such an unmet need in this patient population. We’re trying to answer important questions, like:

  • Can we use it to treat brain metastases (similarly to how it’s being used to treat Essential Tremors and patients with Parkinson’s Disease)?
  • How does the brain’s immune components respond?
  • Can we integrate this technology with immunotherapy?

There are a lot of unanswered questions, but our goal is to get it to patients as soon as possible. We’re integrating our work with biomedical engineers and have funded this collaboratively because many people see the potential for focused ultrasound. If efficacy is the same as radiation, this technology could provide a new approach meet the challenge of these poorly served patients.

How has MRA funding helped your work?

Each stage of my career, MRA has been there. The Young Investigator Award helped get my lab up and running. And the continued support through Academic-Industry Partnership and Established Investigator awards have helped sustain my work.

The funding has been important, but I also value the collaborative network that MRA has fostered. The Scientific Retreat is a relaxed setting to chat about real challenges and new opportunities.

MRA has a real enthusiasm for thinking outside the envelope. MRA provides the building blocks and foundation to get important research moving forward. MRA is notorious for that and it’s certainly had an impact on my career.

What do you hope to see more of in the future of melanoma research?

The future is understanding how to integrate these amazing therapies we have now. We’re trying to understand each patient’s disease to select the appropriate combination of therapies to treat them.  We can almost come up with a “prescription” for each patient. We’re also talking about real-time monitoring of tumors to identify mechanisms of adaptive resistance. This could allow us to develop counter responses by figuring out how to react in near real time.

This is absolutely personalized, precision medicine, and I think melanoma researchers and the MRA are going to lead it.

Can you share a little about yourself? What do you outside of the lab?

One of the things I enjoy most is coaching soccer. Right now I’m coaching U14 girls soccer.

 

 

A Daughter’s Take: My Mother’s Journey

This week, we’re pleased to welcome our youngest guest blogger, Sadie Kargman. Sadie’s sharing her family’s personal experience with melanoma and has committed to helping support MRA through fundraising. Read more.

Hi, my name is Sadie and when I was only in second grade my mom was diagnosed with melanoma. At first, considering, I was only 8 I didn’t quite know what was happening to my mom. As the weeks went by I noticed a pattern, she kept on going to the doctors or having them come over and getting what I called booboos (shots). Later when she finally sat down and explained what was happing to her it struck me. I could lose my mother.

kargmans

Sadie with her mom and dad

When she was getting the treatment she needed I wanted to do everything I could to help my mom. Because I was so young the only thing I could do was be extra nice and try to make my moms life a little bit easier, and trust that the doctors were doing everything they could.

Luckily for my family, my mom was able to beat cancer. Now that I am older I am thrilled to be able to help those afflicted with the same disease that my mom had.

When it came to picking a charity for my bat mitzvah the choice was easy. I wanted to work with the MRA because the cause was so near to my heart. Not only am I committed to raising money for the MRA but I am also passionate about spreading awareness about melanoma.During my time at sleep away camp I am always encouraging other girls to wear sunscreen and protect themselves from the sun.

Hopefully through my partnership with MRA I can learn even more about melanoma and help raise awareness so others can prevent getting the same disease as my mom had.

 

To learn more and help support Sadie’s efforts, visit her fundraising page.