The Color Of Skin Cancer

May 7, 2013 at 3:12 pm , by

Look out, pink: Here comes orange. We saw a lot of this hot color on Melanoma Monday this week. It’s part of the American Academy of Dermatology’s SPOT orange campaign to raise awareness and promote early detection of skin cancer. “Unlike other types of cancer, skin cancer provides visual warning signs that can be detected on the surface of the skin in the form of a spot that changes, itches or bleeds,” says AAD president Dirk M. Elston, M.D. “When caught early, skin cancer has a 98 percent cure rate, which is why it is so important for people to know the warning signs and see a dermatologist for proper diagnosis.”

The AAD even sent out packages of orange m&ms imprinted with their logo and the #SPOT orange hashtag. That led some melanoma advocates to cry foul, saying the disease that kills one person every hour is not sweet or fun and should be taken more seriously. Some also say that black is the color of melanoma awareness and feel offended by orange, the color of “fake tans.” We understand how serious and deadly melanoma can be but we also say, whatever works!

Something needs to be done—and now. Melanoma is on the rise among young people, especially young women who have done indoor tanning. In fact, the FDA is considering really cracking down on this dangerous habit. Meanwhile, it’s proven to be carcinogenic, so steer clear.

There are lots of helpful tools and links on the AAD site to motivate you. My favorite is this downloadable Body Mole Map, which can help you keep track of spots that may be changing—and includes photos of what to look for. I’m using mine! You still have to see a dermatologist regularly, though, for a professional skin check. (See my video on what to expect here.)

The Skin Cancer Foundation has great resources, too. A must-read: “Even One Pre-Prom Tan Can Be Dangerous,” in which a young melanoma survivor (she was diagnosed at only 23) shares her regrets.

Another must-read (okay, I wrote it) is our story in the June issue of the Journal: “Freckle, Mole or Skin Cancer?” In it, a woman who was seven months pregnant saw a small black spot on her leg and thought it was a tick. It wasn’t.

Our story also has great advice on what you need to know about getting a biopsy, and how to trust your instincts about any suspicious spot on your body. Plus the latest on sunscreens, which are getting better all the time. Remember: You have the power to prevent skin cancer.

But if you are diagnosed, here’s a great blog by Lisa Collier Cool, a member of our new blogger team, on the latest medical breakthroughs to treat it.

Addendum: Read the AAD’s response to the color controversy on its Facebook page.


The FDA’s Top Consumer Health Concerns of the Year

January 2, 2013 at 3:34 pm , by

We just love top 10 end-of-year lists, especially when they dispense helpful health information. The FDA just released its list of the most popular health updates on its site for 2012. Here are four you should know about it, in case you missed them the first time around:

Number 9: Statins to prevent heart disease
Have you resisted your doctor’s efforts to prescribe Lipitor or another statin drug because of concerns about side effects? The FDA recently expanded and clarified its advice on the risks of these drugs. You may have heard that you need frequent testing of your liver enzymes while on these meds, but here’s some good news: it’s no longer considered helpful or necessary. But there are other potential risks of these drugs, including memory loss, type 2 diabetes and muscle damage. Read more details.

Number 7: Triclosan in antibacterial products
Should you be washing your hands with antibacterial soaps? As we reported in our Guide to Germs in the November issue, triclosan is an ingredient that can kill the really nasty bugs, but studies show that plain old soap and water do just as good a job of it. And while the FDA doesn’t come right out and say you should avoid it, they do say that several scientific studies that have been done recently merit further review. And many experts believe triclosan can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. That’s reason enough for us to avoid the ingredient (easy, since it’s required to be on the label). Click here for more info.

Number 5: Arsenic in rice
This topic made headlines a few months ago. Does it mean your sushi is poisoning you? Probably not—unless you’re eating mountains of the stuff. The FDA has been testing samples of all kinds of rice products, and it’s shocking that they’re finding inorganic arsenic in everything from cereals to rice cakes. So far the folks at the FDA are not saying you should stop eating rice. They’re still studying this. But we say if rice is one of the main staples in your diet, you may want to go for a little more variety in the grains you eat till experts know more. Get the full scoop here.

Number 1: Getting rid of unused medicines
The new year is a good time to check your prescription and OTC drugs for expiration dates and clean out your overstuffed medicine cabinet. But how do you dispose of medicines safely while protecting kids, the environment and your own medical information? Follow these FDA guidelines.

Check out all the latest consumer updates from the FDAAnd have a safe and healthy 2013!

Photo: shutterstock.com


Danger of Online Pharmacies

October 10, 2012 at 1:46 pm , by


Of course you know not to click on those spammy “cheap Viagra!” e-mails (right?), but you may not know why going online in search of a deal on prescription meds can be hazardous to your health.

In a survey of Internet users, one in four adults said they’ve bought drugs online, yet close to 30 percent said they had no idea how to identify a fake pharmacy from a real one. Those are scary stats because only 3 percent of online pharmacies comply with U.S. laws, according to a study by the National Boards of Pharmacy.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D., commissioner of the FDA, wants to make people more aware of this problem. Health director Julie Bain and I (right, with Dr. Hamburg in the middle) had a chance to sit down with her in New York last week to discuss it.

LHJ: We didn’t realize so many people shop online for drugs. What are the main reasons for doing it? Is it really as easy as putting something in your shopping cart and pressing enter?

MH: People do it for both convenience and cost. For some, it may be that their insurance company suggests they buy through the internet, and the insurance company recommends a certain site. That’s a safe way to go. But the danger is that when people get used to ordering online, they may start shopping around for cheaper prices on other sites. In these difficult economic times, it’s understandable that people want to look for the best price. But when it comes to medication, if it’s really cheap, then it probably isn’t the real thing.

And if it is as easy as just putting it in your cart, that is a major warning signal. You could never go to your brick and mortar pharmacy and get a prescription drug without a written prescription. So it’s a red flag online.

LHJ: What should women look out for if they do buy drugs online?

There is real reason for concern that the product may be counterfeit or substandard, meaning it may not have the appropriate amount of the active pharmaceutical ingredients. It might have too little, too much, or it might have other ingredients or additives. Sometimes it can even be toxic, and your heath is too important to take a risk like that.

Safe and licensed online pharmacies exist, but your antenna has to go up every time. There are four key points to look for:

  1. Does the site require a prescription? (Your doctor’s office may need to send it electronically to the site, or sometimes you can scan a paper prescription.)
  2. Does it have a pharmacist available to answer your questions?
  3. Does it list a U.S. address and telephone number?
  4. Is it licensed?

If the answer is no to any of these questions (especially number 1), it may not be a reputable site. How do you determine if it’s licensed? On the BeSafeRx FDA site, click on your state, then scroll down to where you can enter the name of the pharmacy.