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NFL's Bill Cowher Leads Melanoma Campaign

The former NFL coach and CBS commentator pushes awareness for the disease that took his wife.

Bill Cowher

With 160K diagnosed cases every year, how many more undiagnosed cases do you think go unreported every year?
Dr. Elizabeth Hale: Skin cancer in general tends to go underreported more often than other types of cancer, and that’s because cases that are caught early are also treated on an outpatient basis like in a dermatologist’s office rather than a hospital. Although all melanoma cases are supposed to be reported to the US Cancer Registry, a lot of them are not.

In men, melanoma is the sixth most commonly reported type of cancer. But men are much more likely to worry about prostate cancer. They’ve heard of prostate cancer, even though melanoma can actually be much more aggressive. The thing that’s really unique about melanoma—once it spreads, it’s one of the most aggressive types of cancer that someone can have.

The figure you’ve cited is that men might be twice as likely as women to die from melanoma, but only nine percent of men think melanoma is a threat. BC: They don’t. They’re not aware of how dangerous it is and they’re just not as mindful of what to do about it. They’re less concerned about going out and spending an afternoon playing golf or a day at the beach and making sure they put the sunscreen on and take care of themselves. It is very deadly. Even though it starts on the outside, once it gets inside, it’s fatal.

How do you break the misconception that it’s so easily treated?
BC: You can treat it easily when it’s caught early. When you don’t, it can get under your skin and into your blood system and into an organ. It’s very nearly untreatable once that happens. If you don’t get it detected early enough, it’s deadly. It’s curable, but you’d better be proactive.

But going back to the original question, how hard is it to convince a guy that the spot on his arm could kill him?
BC: Hard. But like anything else, you cannot repeat a message enough. You’ve got to get examples out there. I watched it happen to my wife, who was 53 years old at the time. It happens fast and it’s deadly. Jimmy Johnson died from it. He was a football coach. He was out there and didn’t think anything about it, either. Until it happens to someone close to you, you may think it won’t happen to you, but it will, and that’s the message we’re trying to send. I think we’re trying to make sure everyone understands it’s not just blonde-haired and blue-eyed. It’s every nationality, every skin color. Bob Marley died from melanoma as well. So, no one’s immune from it. Everyone is susceptible to it if they don’t take care for themselves and do the little things. We’re trying to discourage the tanning booths and the tanning beds, all these things that are out there… An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that’s what we’re trying to do with this campaign.

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