Melanoma Research Foundation sponsors nationwide events for melanoma awareness

April 26, 2000

Finding a cure for the most deadly form of skin cancer is the force behind Melanoma Awareness Month in May. Americans have a one in 85 lifetime risk of developing melanoma, which kills more than 7,000 people each year.

"In order to raise money for research, people have to be aware there is a problem," said James Berkovec, vice chairman of the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF), a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure.

The foundation is a group of volunteers throughout the United States who are melanoma patients or family members of patients. In this first awareness campaign, the three-year-old organization does not have the resources for large events, but volunteers have come up with many creative ways to reach people.

"Some have agreed to tell their personal stories to news organizations," said Berkovec. "Others are holding fund-raising dinners, auctions or musical events. Some are taking literature to schools and medical centers. One volunteer is working with students to have some dress up as the movie characters from "Men in Black" and hand out samples of sunscreen and sun safety tips.

"Certainly, the best cure is prevention," continued Berkovec. "Simple techniques such as wearing hats, using sunblock and avoiding mid-day sun can make a substantial difference in lowering the rate of melanoma incidence in the U.S. The activities the MRF is planning for the month of May will also emphasize how individuals can identify early stages of skin cancer by checking for new or changing moles, while urging people to see their dermatologist for a skin check, regularly.

"If they catch it early, they have a very good chance of being cured. If they don't, their chances drop dramatically," added Berkovec.

Studies show that patients with thin melanomas that appear to be completely removed have more than 90 percent chance of never having a recurrence. However, once melanoma grows deeper into the skin and particularly if it is found to have traveled to the lymph nodes, the chance of no recurrence drops to about 50 percent. In advanced melanoma, the disease can show up anywhere -- liver, lungs, brain, bones, etc. -- and patients may be treated with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy in an attempt to halt the tumor growth.

Berkovec, a retired engineer, has been in a clinical vaccine trial for advanced melanoma. Vaccines are one of a variety of treatments being researched. The MRF was founded in 1996 by melanoma patient Diana Ashby, wife of NASA astronaut Jeff Ashby. Diana died in 1997 at age 34, but the foundation lives on, still seeking the cure she fought so hard for.

Among public misconceptions are that only older people with fair skin get melanoma after years of sun abuse. Although these people are at risk, there is a growing number of young people and darker-skinned people being diagnosed. One recent study showed a high rate of melanoma among airline pilots.

Obviously there is a need for more study on genetic and environmental factors that may cause melanoma and a growing need for a cure.

The foundation has chosen to give grants to promising melanoma investigators early in their careers to encourage a new generation of research.

For more information about how to become involved in local activities in the month of May or about recipients of research grants, the foundation, a list of cancer centers, patient memorials and survivor stories and links to other melanoma sites, please visit the MRF web site at
This press communication was sponsored by AVAX Technologies, Inc., Kansas City, MO.

Contact: James Berkovec, Ph.D. Vice Chairman Melanoma Research Foundation 916-773-9734 jim@melanoma.org

AVAX Technologies, Inc.

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