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Gearing Up for Skin Cancer Awareness Month

May has been declared Skin Cancer Awareness Month by the Centers for Disease Control. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon according to the American Cancer Society. Take advantage of the wealth of skin cancer prevention resources available next month so you can become SunAWARE and help prevent and detect skin cancers.

1. Start out May with a free skin cancer screening.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) designates the first Monday in May as Melanoma Monday (5/7/2012). Dermatology offices often provide free skin cancer screenings. Find a free skin cancer screening on the AAD website or by calling your local dermatology office.

Additionally, this year, the AAD will launch their SPOT Skin Cancer™ public education initiative on Melanoma Monday. The initiative aims to educate the public about skin cancer and promote positive behavior to prevent and detect skin cancer. SPOT Skin Cancer™ also will position dermatologists as the experts in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.

2. Walk or run to support skin cancer research.

Register to walk or run and raise money in support of skin cancer research through the Melanoma Research Foundation. Search for an event in your area, or create your own Miles for Melanoma event. Miles for Melanoma events take place across the United States and are hosted by volunteers.

3. Register to win school sun hats from Coolibar.

Coolibar is giving away up to 50 school sun hats to five winning classrooms across the United States. Download the contest form or enter online. Contest deadline is May 11, 2012.

4. Kick off your summer with Don’t Fry Day.

The Friday before Memorial Day (5/25/2012) is deemed Don’t Fry Day by The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. The purpose is to remind everyone to protect your skin while enjoying the outdoors.

5. Pledge to follow these simple steps of SunAWARE to prevent and detect skin cancers all summer.

Avoid unprotected exposure to sunlight, seek shade, and never indoor tan.

Wear sun protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses year-round.

Apply recommended amounts of broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sunburn protection factor (SPF) greater than or equal to 30 to all exposed skin and reapply every two hours, or as needed.

Routinely examine your whole body for changes in your skin and report concerns to a parent or healthcare provider.

Educate your family and community about the need to be SunAWARE.

If you have any ideas, suggestions or events on skin cancer prevention, please share them with us.

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Educate Others SunAWARE

A New Year’s Resolution with a Cause

While you may already have a personal goal in mind to accomplish in 2012, have you thought about creating a New Year’s Resolution that can have a profound impact on others as well? Over 58 thousand people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin in 2007 (the most recent year statistics are available) and the number continues to rise (Center for Disease Control). You, just one person, can help lower the rate people are being diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, and save lives. This year, consider giving back by getting involved in a race for the cure, fundraise for melanoma research, or hold an event to help educate others about skin cancer and prevention. Our friends at Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) have some suggestions to help you get started. Go ahead – set out to accomplish something BIG this year!

People often make cause related resolutions at the new year, particularly after the holidays when they feel the loss of a loved one more deeply. Often the individual will contact MRF directly with a statement along the lines of “I recently lost someone and I want to do something to help.

The MRF is uniquely available to fill that need for those who lost someone to melanoma or for those who are currently battling it. The MRF has several event based programs that allow people to join our community and raise funds for research. What is attractive to the individual is that they become part of a larger group who can make a bigger impact. As one it’s hard to feel like you’re making a difference, but when you join a group that ultimately has nearly 10,000 participants a year, and raises nearly $2 million a year, then you know you’ve made a difference.

Our participants take on challenges from the simple to the extreme. Many join us at our 5k Miles For Melanoma walks. Many of them will do some fundraising of their own, but most will join us to help with awareness and provide a sense of community. The more people we have at these events, the more we can make people aware of the need for sun safety and prevention.

Other participants might take on more daunting challenges – running a marathon, racing in a triathlon, riding their bike across the U.S. and more. These folks all become fundraisers and bring in an average of $1200 or more.

We also have supporters who focus on awareness and education activities – they often take their own time to reach out to school groups and businesses to educate them about the importance of getting a skin cancer screening, using sunscreen and promoting a better understanding of the seriousness of melanoma. It’s not “just” skin cancer. The MRF relies on our advocates and messengers to provide this valuable information to their communities.

Carolyn Edrington
Melanoma Research Foundation

Perseverance is key to reach your goal. You can achieve great things if you are focused and motivated.  Taking on a cause related resolution by yourself can be a daunting task, so create a plan to accomplish your goals and set milestones, track your progress and keep a positive ‘can do’ attitude. Make 2012 your greatest year yet!

Happy New Year!

Coolibar

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SunAWARE

While Melanoma Treatments Advance, Prevention Remains Key

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, isn’t going away. In fact, The National Cancer Institute previously estimated in 2011 that 70,230 people would be diagnosed with melanoma and 8,790 would die of melanoma of the skin. While two major melanoma treatment advancements have made headlines over the past year, it’s even more important to remember that the best way to fight this disease is prevention.

When caught early, melanoma can usually be cured with surgery alone, but once it metastasizes, treatment options become limited. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for stage IV melanoma is about 15% to 20%. Yervoy™ (Ipilimumab) and Zelboraf™ (Vemurafenib) are two new late stage melanoma fighting drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011. Yervoy is the first melanoma drug to receive FDA approval in 13 years. It’s also the first proven treatment to extend overall survival for late stage melanoma patients. “Yervoy may offer many patients a 2-year survival advantage, with a smaller percentage of patients being virtually cured,” claims the Skin Cancer Foundation’s (SCF) report the new drug.

B-RAF
Crystallographic structure of B-Raf (rainbow colored, N-terminus = blue, C-terminus = red) complexed with vemurafenib (spheres, carbon = white, oxygen = red, nitrogen = blue, chlorine = green, fluorine = cyan, sulfur = yellow). Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:3OG7.png

According to the SCF, Zelboraf, approved later in the year by the FDA, is the first targeted genetic therapy of its kind to treat advanced metastatic melanoma patients whose tumors have a specific mutation in the BRAF gene that’s present in 40-60 percent of melanomas. While both drugs represent a step towards a cure for melanoma, in most cases, these treatments only extend the life of advanced stage melanoma patients, and a cure for melanoma has yet to be discovered.

Even though melanoma, in particular late stage, is difficult to treat once it occurs, the good news is that skin cancer, including melanoma is preventable in many cases. Over exposure to UVA and UVB rays produced by the sun or artificial ultraviolet light (i.e. tanning beds) can form genetic mutations in the skin, which leaves those who have burned or tanned susceptible to all forms of skin cancer later in life. UV radiation is considered the main cause of nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSCs), including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The SCF says NMSCs strike more than 250,000 Americans each year. Experts also believe UV radiation may also cause melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

By protecting yourself from UV rays (both artificial UV from tanning beds and naturally occurring UV from the sun) and performing routine skin checks, you’ll not only help reduce the incidence of skin cancers, but improve your overall skin appearance and health. Skin sun damage is cumulative, so there is still time to grab a bottle of SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen, a wide brim hat, UV sunglasses and look into adding sun protective clothing to your wardrobe.

Photo credit: anolobb

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Avoid UV & Seek Shade Success Stories Wellness Warriors

Doc Learns the Hard Way to Avoid Tanning

Some stories are so powerful they need to be retold.  This blog was written by Dr. Jessica Sparks Lilley, a pediatrician who learned the hard way that the risks of getting melanoma from using a tanning bed are real! Please do not use tanning beds.  Please do not allow your children to use tanning beds.  Help pass legislation to ban the use of tanning beds by minors.

“As a pediatrician, I have dedicated much of my life to improving the health of children—thirteen years of formal training after high school, to be exact.  I’ve worked thirty hour shifts every other day, delayed my dream of having children of my own, and moved across the country for the best learning opportunities.  Amid this grueling schedule, during my second year of residency I noticed in a bleary-eyed post-call shower that a mole on my chest had changed a little.  I recounted the “ABCDs” of skin cancer—asymmetry, borders, color, diameter—and my mole was only a little larger than a pencil eraser with more heterogeneity than I remembered (meaning that it was a mix of brown and black rather than just all brown).  When I finally made an appointment with my internist (again, post-call—can’t be choosy when you work eighty hours a week), he brushed my concerns aside and refused to even look at it, instead writing out a referral to dermatology.  Six months later, the opportunity to see a dermatologist finally arose, and I found myself standing in the specialist’s office that February morning to find that the referral had never made it.  My medical training had kicked in and caused a bad feeling in my gut about the mole, so I called my internist’s office from the waiting room and even cried on the phone to get them to help me.  After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, the referral was processed and the physician’s assistant worked me into her schedule—the suspicious mole was off to pathology within fifteen minutes, and I received the call two days later that I was right to be worried—that mole represented an early-stage melanoma.

I was in my parents’ living room when I got the call.  I had traveled from Philadelphia to Mississippi for vacation.  I will never forget the way my mother cried when she overheard me asking questions about whether sentinel node mapping would need to be part of the diagnostic work-up.  I only required a wider excision, which was done that very week and (praise God!) showed no signs of metastasis.  As I sat in doctors’ waiting rooms and even as I was walking back to the operating room, I mulled over the same regrets—why did I ever step foot into a tanning salon?

The first time I went to a tanning bed, I was fifteen years old and trying to get a little “color” to look good in a dress I found to wear in a beauty pageant.  I bought eight visits, heard nothing of the risks (which were largely unknown at the time), never burned, and actually thought it was fun to have the fifteen minutes of quiet rest.  I had to beg my parents to let me go, and the owner of the tanning salon was quick to tell my mother that indoor tanning was much safer than tanning outside.  The strongest argument against the behavior in high school I heard was a bad urban legend about a girl who “fried her ovaries” by tanning.  You’d think that I would have been hesitant to step inside a device that looked like a coffin, had a dial like an oven, and was cleaned with only a dilute cleaning solution by other tanners.  Alas, I went about ten times a year after that for various reasons—prom, pageants, and even my wedding—despite being able to draw a picture of the pyrimadine dimers I was forming in my DNA as a result of UV radiation!  Strangely, I wore sunscreen and rarely went outside, especially as my training intensified.  The first time I thought seriously about never going back was after my first pathology lecture dealing with melanoma and the strong emphasis on UV radiation as a cause of skin cancer; I considered it again when a friend was caring for a patient with metastatic melanoma during our third year of medical school and lovingly warned me that I was putting my health in danger; but because I started tanning at a young age, the behavior seemed safe to me.  I rationalized tanning in every way imaginable.  After I graduated medical school, I vowed to never return lest I set a bad example as a physician.  My last tanning visit was April 24, 2007, about a week before my wedding…and two years before the cancer diagnosis that changed my life.

I am continuing to devote my life to the health of children now as an advocate to ban tanning in minors, just as we regulate other known carcinogens like tobacco.  We know that younger DNA is more vulnerable to dangerous mutations and that teens don’t yet have the cognitive skills to judge long-term ramifications of their actions.  We also understand now that any indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75%!  I am appalled that I have friends who continue to go, reasoning that tanning “isn’t that bad” and is their “only vice” and “something they do for themselves.”  I’m infuriated that some idiot doctors perpetuate the myth that sun exposure is healthy and the lie that tanning beds are a good source of vitamin D.  That’s absolute hogwash.  I’m a fellow in pediatric endocrinology and know that much better sources of vitamin D are available without the side effect of deadly cancer!

I shudder to think of what would have happened to me if I hadn’t detected my melanoma early.  Late-stage melanoma is almost always fatal.  Treatments like interferon have horrible side effects and don’t save everyone.  I no longer feel safe in my own skin and feel that the quality of my life has been impacted by the fear that my cancer will recur.  The fact that melanoma is the most common form of cancer death in my demographic (25-29 year old women) is astounding, and it is unfortunately on the rise in association with more young women with a history of indoor tanning.  It’s humiliating to recount my story—I should have known better—but I hope to teach everyone who will listen three important take-home points:

1. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever indoor (or outdoor) tan!  A tan is evidence of skin damage and potential DNA mutation that can lead to cancer.  There is no such thing as a safe tan!

2. If you are worried about something with your health, there may be a reason.  Talk to your physician, and if he or she doesn’t listen, find someone who will.

3. Finally, take time to take care of your health.  We have all made an idol/status symbol out of “busyness” to the detriment of our well-being.  If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will.

As part of my crusade, at least one later stage melanoma has been diagnosed and countless friends and acquaintances have stopped tanning.  I will keep telling my story to anyone who will listen to defeat this often preventable cancer.”

Jessica Sparks Lilley, MD

A post shared by our friends at SunAWARE.

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Educate Others SunAWARE

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the skin, as defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). So when you hear about the most common types of skin cancer which include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, what does it really mean? What are the differences between these types of skin cancers?

Skin cancers occur if there’s uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells in the epidermis (outer layer of skin). The type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma depends on the types of cells the cancer forms in.

Basal Cell Carcinoma:
If skin cancer begins in the basal cells, which produce skin cells that continuously push older cells toward the surface, it’s known as basal cell carcinoma. Basal cells are found in the lower part of the epidermis. This is the most common form of skin cancer accounting for an estimated 1 million of the over 1.3 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year according to the CDC. This type of skin cancer is usually easy to treat.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma:
Cancer that forms in the squamous cells, the flat cells that form the surface of the skin, is called squamous cell carcinoma. According to the CDC, squamous cell carcinoma accounts for about 16 percent of diagnosed skin cancer cases each year. While this type of skin cancer can be treated in most cases, if untreated it can be fatal.

Melanoma:
Skin cancer that forms in pigment cells (melanocytes) is melanoma. Melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer, but it’s also the deadliest because it tends to metastasize or spread throughout the body when not detected early.  

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are also referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancers to differentiate them from melanoma. Anyone can get basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, regardless of skin color. Factors that may increase your risk are: age, cumulative ultraviolet radiation exposure, where you live and complexion.

When looking at melanoma specifically, the exact cause has yet to be determined; however, researchers argue that certain risk factors increase a person’s chance of developing melanoma including: abnormal moles, having more than 50 normal moles, fair skin, personal history of skin cancer, family history of melanoma, weakened immune system, severe sunburns and ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure.

Take a personal quiz to see what your risk of developing skin cancer is and what you can do to help prevent it at the National Cancer Institute’s website: http://understandingrisk.cancer.gov/a_skin/02.cfm

Watch a video on the differnt types of skin cancer and how to help prevent them: http://video.about.com/dermatology/Skin-Cancer.htm

References:
Sun Protection for Life by Mary Mills Barrow and John F. Barrow (2005)
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/medical/IM02400
http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary?cdrid=445084
http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/index.htm
http://www.healthonlinezine.info/what-is-skin-cancer-what-causes-skin-cancer.html

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Wellness Warriors

“More Than Skin Deep” – This Film Can Save Lives

If you had the resources to tell hundreds of thousands of people around the world about skin cancer and prevention would you? Director and Cinematographer Stan Kozma has worked in the film business his entire adult life. He also knows all too well how skin cancer can affect people’s lives, so he decided to take action. All is revealed about skin cancer and melanoma in his film “More Than Skin Deep: Skin Cancer in America”. The hour long film examines the cultural, historical and social facets of the disease, including how the tanning craze was accidentally popularized by Coco Chanel, as well as its medical, scientific and treatment aspects.  Since 2009, the film has been broadcast over 500 times on 200 stations to approximately 500,000 viewers in addition to audiences attending film festivals across the U.S. and currently in Norway. This landmark film has so many elements that we decided to speak with Stan and get the reasoning behind his creation of the film.

Here’s a brief clip from the film “More Than Skin Deep: Skin Cancer in America.” 

                          

Why did you decide to create a film about skin cancer?
As the saying goes, “You choose some projects. Some projects choose you.” My fiancé, Kristi, a professional make-up artist was diagnosed with melanoma. After four tough years of operations and protocols, she was taken by the disease at age 35. During a brief period of remission, she and I vowed that upon her return to full health, we would do what we could to spread awareness about skin cancer. Prior to “Skin Deep”, I had produced a successful PSA campaign about sun awareness directed at kids, teens and parents. The documentary was planned as the next step.

Stan Kozma Shooting "More Than Skin Deep"

Who do you think your audience is for this film?
The audience is anyone who is exposed to the sun – which is all of us. The film is directed at mid-teen to adult. Classroom versions have been created for middle school, high school and nursing academies.

What is your hope for every person who watches “More Than Skin Deep”?
One hope is that people who watch “Skin Deep” will want a friend or family member to watch it as well. We’ve received many requests to send copies of the film to a granddaughter or younger family member who might not realize the possible consequences of their sun habits.

What was the number one point you wanted to get across?
If there is one overarching message it is that skin cancer is REAL cancer. While the film addresses basal and squamous cancers, the primary focus is on melanoma. There are two main points we emphasized. One is that melanoma is an unpredictable and very treacherous cancer that although when caught early has a 99% cure rate, once it spreads it is very difficult to control. The second is that sun exposure or early sunburns can have long term serious consequences. Your body doesn’t really ‘get over’ a sunburn. It’s not like getting over a cold. Your skin stores that information for your entire life – and we get 80% of our lifetime sun exposure before we are 18.

How did you choose people to interview?
During Kristi’s treatments we traveled from Florida to California, New York and Bethesda for consultation and treatment. We met many brilliant and caring physicians and nurses during that time. I remained in contact with most of them after her passing. When it came time to make the documentary, not one turned down the opportunity to be on camera. In fact, several made important introductions that resulted in interviews that otherwise would not have been possible.

Sun protective clothing is now being recommended as the first line of defense by many leading organizations. The movie doesn’t really address the use of sun clothing as a protection method, was this intentional?
Several of our interviewees did mention sun protective clothing. Our limiting issue was time. The film had to be a specific length to adhere to broadcast standards. We had more footage than time. Since “Skin Deep’s” initial release in 2009, there have been significant developments in melanoma treatment and in skin cancer news. Currently we are looking to revise the film for a new broadcast version and a longer non broadcast version without time constraints. The importance and advantages of sun protective clothing will certainly be included in the update.

In your eyes, has the film been a success?
The film has been successful. But its full potential is far from being reached. “More Than Skin Deep” is the most engaging, emotional and entertaining film to examine skin cancer produced to date. It can be updated and advanced as new information and treatments become available. Custom versions of the film can be created for certain geographical regions and for ages and occupations.

Do you have any future plans as a skin cancer crusader?
In addition to continuing the outreach of “Skin Deep”, I am developing a feature film which Kristi and I started writing together and which chronicles the odyssey of her melanoma journey. It is not a standard approach to the subject and the intent is to create a narrative film that will do for skin cancer awareness what the film ‘Philadelphia’ did for HIV/AIDS understanding.

To view clips or purchase the DVD, visit www.morethanskindeep.org.

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SunAWARE Videos

Check Me Out! Jaguars and MRF Fight Melanoma

Melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the United States and worldwide according to the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF). Raising awareness about melanoma can save lives, and catching it early is crucial. In an effort to get the word out to a massive audience, on October 9th the MRF teamed up with the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team to hold a Melanoma Awareness Day during the big game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Throughout the game, over 300 volunteers handed out 50,000 stadium cups with the phrase, “Make a Great Catch!  Spotting melanoma early can save a life!” The cups were filled with sunscreen and skin cancer prevention literature.  Print ads in the game-day book, electronic ads on all the videos in the stadium, and promotions on radio enforced the importance of checking skin regularly. The Jaguars also provided Jacksonville Melanoma, an affiliate of the MRF, $10 for each ticket sold through its website, www.jacksonvillemelanoma.org.

The efforts of all involved in the melanoma awareness event proved to be gratifying almost instantaneously as one father of a 20 year-old girl sought after the MRF team at the event for advice. He wanted to know how to approach his daughter regarding seeing a dermatologist to get a suspicious mole checked.  He believed the mole appeared after his daughter badly burned from using a tanning bed twice in one session, which he said has caused her to have negative skin reactions in the sun. A rep from the MRF told him, “Do whatever it takes to get your daughter to the doctor to get the spot checked out”.  More on this story can be found on the MRF blog.

While you may not have watched the game, you can still make a lifesaving catch. Check your skin and the skin of the ones you love.

MRF “Check Me Out!” Slideshow. Please note there is no sound.

The ABCDE’s of Melanoma

Provided by the MRF.

A – Asymmetrical Shape
Melanoma lesions are typically irregular, or not symmetrical, in shape. Benign moles are usually symmetrical.

B – Border
Typically, non-cancerous moles have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.

C – Color
The presence of more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color can sometimes be a warning sign of melanoma. Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan.

D – Diameter
Melanoma lesions are often greater than 6 millimeters in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser).

E – Evolution
The evolution of your moles(s) has become the most important factor to consider when it comes to melanoma. Knowing what is normal for YOU could save your life. If a mole has gone through recent changes in color and or size, get it checked out by a dermatologist immediately.

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Events

Once Again, “The Big C” Puts Skin Cancer in the Spotlight

It’s back, a new season of “The Big C”, starting on Monday, June 27, 2011 on Showtime.

“The Big C” tells the story of Cathy Jamison, played by Laura Linney (pictured to the left), a wife and mother living in suburbia recently diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma (a deadly form of skin cancer). Her cancer forces her to shake up her life and find hope and humor in spite of her grim situation.

The show may not always accurately portray the life of someone battling skin cancer; however, it brings the topic to the center stage without scaring off viewers due to its morose background. It’s a comedy, but does not neglect that there is a serious story behind the series. The Skin Cancer Foundation has praised the show’s creator Darlene Hunt and the cast for increasing awareness for melanoma, which when found early, can be treatable. Melanoma is also preventable in some cases by using sun protection, as about 65 percent of melanoma cancers can be attributed to UV radiation according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

An Overview of “The Big C”

Cathy is a high school teacher who, at the start of the series, has been diagnosed with melanoma. Reluctant to burden those closest to her, she keeps it a secret for months, but later eventually reveals she has cancer to her husband and son. Her behavior takes a major turn from her reserved lifestyle as she makes reckless choices in the face of her fatality. At the end of the first season, she decides to undergo interleukin-2 (IL-2), a treatment option for those with Stage IV melanoma. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 10-16 percent of carefully selected patients on IL-2 regimens respond to the drug, and about 60 percent of those patients’ lives are significantly extended. The second season picks up from here.

Have you watched “The Big C”, and if so, what do you think? Is this a good topic for a television show? Let us know your thoughts on Facebook or by commenting below.

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