May is Melanoma Awareness Month

Contact: Gina M. Digravio, 617-638-8491 |

(Boston) – There is a growing Skin Cancer epidemic in the United States. Each year, more than 2 million people in the United States get skin cancer, and more than 120,000 will get melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease. With melanoma cases on the rise, now 1 in 58 people in the US will get an invasive melanoma within their lifetimes and each year more than 8,000 people will die of this disease.

As the weather turns warmer and sunnier, and the month of May designated as Melanoma Awareness Month, Boston Medical Center Dermatologists recommend some sun safety tips to keep you and your family skin cancer-free.

• Sunscreen: Slather it on! Apply sunscreen, with an SPF 30 or higher, liberally and frequently. Remember that sunless tanning products do not contain enough sunscreen to be protective so you will need to add a sunscreen that can be applied every 2 hours with an SPF of 30 or more. Look for sunscreens with both UVA and UVB protection.
• Avoid sun exposure whenever possible: Exposure to the sun can increase your risk of developing skin cancer dramatically, especially during the sun’s peak hours of 10 am – 3 pm. Seek shade whenever possible, wear photoprotective clothing, and always have a broad spectrum (UVA + UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more on hand.
• Stay away from tanning beds and sun lamps: There is no safe type of UV radiation, despite manufacturer’s claims. These devices can lead to skin cancer. They can also impair vision and age the skin prematurely.
• See your Dermatologist on a regular basis: Do you have lots of moles? Funny-looking moles? A personal or family history of skin cancer? Do you have red or blonde hair? Blue eyes or freckles? Have you ever had a blistering sunburn? Did you have lots of sun as a child? All of these factors put you at a significantly greater risk of developing melanoma. Melanoma can appear anywhere on the skin’s surface – even on normal-appearing skin.
• Remember the ABCDEs of skin cancer: Asymmetry, Borders that are irregular, Color that is unusual or varied, Diameter that is large or changing and Evolving or changing moles.
• Have a dermatologist evaluate any skin irregularity with these features or any spots on your skin that seem out of the ordinary. “See a spot, see a change, see a dermatologist!” Annual visits to a dermatologist could save your life or those of a loved one.

What are BMC Dermatologists doing for skin cancer?
Members of the Skin Oncology Program, led by Marie-France Demierre, MD, an expert in melanoma, are actively involved in promoting melanoma prevention among at-risk individuals in general and adolescents, in particular. They have partnered with the Melanoma Foundations and State Societies to educate those at risk of the dangers of indoor tanning. Working with the American Academy of Dermatology, Dr. Demierre and colleagues have further developed information that will help states pass stricter laws limiting indoor tanning to minors.

If you see a suspicious spot and would like to have it evaluated, please call 617-414-6760 or 617-638-7420 for an appointment.

Ground-breaking Research in Melanoma at Boston University School of Medicine
The Laboratory of Cutaneous Oncology is run by Dr. Rhoda Alani, Chair of the Department of Dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Alani is a world-renowned melanoma investigator and clinician. Her research focus is in understanding the molecular basis for melanoma development and progression with the aim of translating her laboratory findings to improved prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of melanoma. Current research projects in the Alani Lab include:

A “Skin Scanner” to Diagnose Melanoma
Distinguishing between dangerous skin lesions and ones that are not so worrisome can be difficult, especially in people with many moles. Now, Drs. Alani and Demierre at BUSM are working with engineers at Johns Hopkins on a clinical trial of a novel infrared detection system for pigmented lesions and melanoma. So far this system has shown unparalleled sensitivity and specificity for melanoma detection in early-stage studies and a large-scale trial of this detection device is expected to start at Boston University within the next few months. For more information, please see:

A Blood Test for Melanoma
A team of scientists in the Laboratory of Cutaneous Oncology have identified new molecules on the surface of melanoma cells and those secreted into the bloodstream that are being used to develop a blood test for melanoma. The test would detect these melanoma-specific molecules in the blood and allow for a physician to determine whether a patient had localized or widespread melanoma, the prognosis for a particular patient with melanoma, and the presence of recurrent melanoma is a patient previously treated for this disease. Researchers are looking to further develop this blood test in large-scale preclinical and clinical studies in order to allow for widespread availability as a meaningful clinical test for patients.

A Tissue Test for Melanoma
Researchers in the Laboratory of Cutaneous Oncology have identified molecules associated with progression of melanoma. These molecules are being evaluated in tissue specimens as biomarkers for early detection of melanoma and prognostic markers to help determine the risk of recurrent or widespread melanoma in patients with localized disease.

A Genetic Test for Melanoma
Dr. Alani is working with other faculty members in Dermatology at BUSM to study populations that may be at risk for developing melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers. These studies of thousands of patients will help determine the genetic risk factors associated with melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers and the correlation with other skin cancer risk factors like sun exposure, skin pigmentation, family history of skin cancer, and number of moles. It is expected that these studies will allow us to develop a genetic test top better assess melanoma risk in patients with a previous diagnosis of melanoma, their family members, and other high-risk individuals.

New Treatments for Melanoma
Members of the Laboratory of Cutaneous Oncology have identified new pathways involved in the progression of melanoma and are screening libraries of hundreds of thousands of small molecules to identify inhibitors of critical melanoma pathways as prototype therapies for melanoma. Other studies involve screening of a library of FDA-approved drugs for novel uses of these drugs as melanoma therapies. These studies have already led to the identification of promising lead compounds which are expected to result in Phase II clinical trials in the near future. Additional studies have allowed for the development of a model system to assess mechanisms of melanoma metastasis. One of the leading targets in this metastasis screen is a cell surface receptor on melanomas that can be readily targeted and developed as a cancer therapy. Novel humanized antibodies are being developed as melanoma therapies targeting tumor metastasis based on these studies. It is expected that Phase I studies of these lead metastasis-suppressor drugs will be initiated within the coming months.

To find out more about the Department of Dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine, please visit

To make an appointment with a dermatologist, please call 617-414-6760 or 617-638-7420.