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Posted on February 25, 2010

Joanna M Nicolay  "...& Often!" as the title emphasizes for triathletes. Melanoma skin cancer "detection" is one essential component of the mission of the Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation (JMNMF) - to protect the body's largest, perhaps most underappreciated organ from its number one enemy - the sun!  Skin cancer is the #1 cancer in the U.S. and melanoma is the most serious and lethal form.  The Foundation is a non-profit charity recognized nationally for education, outreach and research activity, and especially, as the "voice for melanoma prevention, detection, care and cure."  

Triathletes lead the pack as a key demographic for over-exposure to the sun's extremely harmful ultraviolet rays. When you think of skin cancer you may ask, "What's the big deal? Don't they just remove it?" While the skin has pigment-producing melanocytes to protect it, the sun's rays are especially damning to the skin's middle layer, the dermis. No amount of "tan" or pigmentation will protect the skin because the damaging rays penetrate deeply, causing cumulative damage. Triathletes need to know the startling facts that:

Melanoma is the most common cancer for young adults ages 25-29; and,
Second most common cancer for ages 15-29 years old. Women aged 39 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer.

Over 121,500 new melanoma cases were to be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2009; and,
8,650 people projected to die, - approx. 1 person every hour. The lifetime risk of developing melanoma is 1 in 53.

Very early melanomas, considered Stage I, are thin. The chances of it spreading are low if it is caught because the melanoma has not grown deeply enough into the skin to allow the cancerous cells to break away and spread. The treatment is to have the affected mole surgically removed along with a surrounding border of healthy tissue, which is called a "wide local excision." As long as your doctor is sure that enough tissue was removed, that is all the treatment you need.
Stage II and III melanomas are more likely to spread to other parts of the body because the cancerous cells have grown deeper into the skin. Doctors describe Stage II melanomas as having a "moderate" or "intermediate" risk of returning or spreading to another part of the body after they have been removed. Stage III melanomas have a higher risk of recurrence, because the melanoma cells have spread into the skin, lymph vessels, or lymph glands close to the melanoma, and may be carried to other parts of the body in the bloodstream or lymph fluid.

"TRI-TO-WIN-THE-FIGHT against Melanoma" is the triathlon education and fundraising initiative of the Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation, targeting the full spectrum of triathletes and their families and supporters to enhance awareness of melanoma and the importance of embracing sun-safe practices.  According to Greg Safko, JMNMF President, "We're making inroads, gaining visibility, and reaching critical mass within the triathlete community, and more importantly, building bridges with key partners, such as the Columbia Triathlon Association.  The fact that melanoma is the only cancer increasing in incidence that receives approx. 3% of the National Cancer Institute funding - compels us in our education, research and advocacy efforts. When we 'TRI-TO-WIN-THE-FIGHT' together, we will win!  And athletes especially, should feel very proud of their involvement."
One significant 2009 Foundation initiative, was a substantial 300% increase in Research Scholar Awards - expanding graduate melanoma research beyond Johns Hopkins University - to three additional premier cancer institutes across the U.S in PA, FL and CA.  The Foundation also initiated melanoma skin cancer educational curriculum for teachers in high schools and outreach programs for all key stakeholders, triathletes, youth, and the general public.  The Foundation underscores that more education and awareness needs to be done, as each year in the U.S. there are more new cases of skin cancer than the incidence of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined.  

So, what can triathletes do for protection?  Simple!  When training or racing, make sure to follow sun safe practices:

  1. Do not burn:
  2. Generously apply sunscreen to all exposed skin using an SPF of at least 15. Re-apply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or continuous sweating.
  3. Wear protective clothing, a hat or visor, and sunglasses.
  4. Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun's rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  5. Use extra caution near water, as it reflects the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
  6. Early detection of melanoma can save your life. Carefully examine all of your skin once a month.

The Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation's mission is to provide education, advocacy, and research to battle melanoma as the "voice for melanoma prevention, detection, care and cure."  More information on "TRI-TO-WIN-THE-FIGHT" and all Foundation initiatives are available at; or reach the JMNMF office at or call (410) 857-4890.

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