Growing up I had a dark mole on my shoulder. During the summer, when wearing a tank top or sundress people would see it any comment “You should get that checked out”. And I did, several times. Many doctors told me it was fine b/c it was perfectly round, but told me to keep an eye on it. I came to think of it as my
‘beauty mark’, like Cindy Crawford.
Then I met my friend Sarah, who lost her mother to skin cancer. I started to re-think my beauty mark. I made an appointment with a dermatologist to get a full body scan and revisit this mole situation. He agreed it looked fine, but said if I were his daughter, he would want it removed. No use keeping it if it’s something that could eventually turn into cancer. After a quick procedure, it was removed and I no longer have to worry, (nor get the constant comments from total strangers about my mole).
Many of us have moles which are perfectly normal. They appear in the first few decades of life in almost everyone. They can be either flat or elevated and are generally round and regularly shaped. Many are caused by sun exposure. I have so many moles, I could play an interesting game of connect the dots.
Unfortunately moles can turn into one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, Melanoma.
The stats are a bit alarming:
· One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 62 minutes).*1
· One in 55 people will be diagnosed with melanoma during their lifetime.*2
· Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.*3
The good news is, if melanoma is treated early, it is almost always curable. The survival rate when detected early, before the tumor has penetrated the skin, is about 99 percent.*4 The survival rate falls to 15 percent for those with advanced disease.*1
When it is not found early, it spreads easily and can be hard to treat. While it is not the most common of the skin cancers, it causes the most deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that at present, about 120,000 new cases of melanoma in the US are diagnosed in a year.
So what should we do?
Avoid sun damage-whether it's directly from the sun or a tanning bed:
· One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life.*5
· A person's risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns at any age.*6
· According to recent research, first exposure to tanning beds in youth increases melanoma risk by 75 percent.
Keep an eye out for irregular moles:
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends self-exams monthly. If you do these regularly, you are more likely to spot any abnormalities or changes in moles. After you do it a few times, it should take no more than 10 minutes – a small investment in what could be a life-saving routine.
It's also great for your children to see you do this, so they incorporate it into their lives as they get older.
You may find it helpful to have a doctor do a full-body exam first, to assure you that any existing spots, freckles, or moles are normal or treat any that may not be.
What to look for-the ABCDE’s (and the ugly duckling)
If you draw a line through this mole, the two halves will not match.
B - Border
The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.
C - Color
Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, blue or some other color.
Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the size of the eraser on your pencil (1/4 inch or 6 mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.
Any change — in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.
The ugly duckling- If a mole looks or feels different than other moles, or changes over time in a different way than other moles, you should keep a close eye on it and alert your dermatologist.
Trust your instincts-if something doesn’t look or feel right, be sure the dermatologist makes a note during your annual screening and follows up during your next exam.
You can also keep track with this handy dandy mole map from skincancer.org. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/early-detection
Use another pair of eyes:
A full body mole mapping and yearly follow up with a dermatologist is important, especially if you have a lot of moles. Not only is the dermatologist trained in what to look for, they can see moles you may not be able to see with a self-exam.
Moles can be anywhere-behind your ears, between your toes, on your eyelids.
Be sure your doctor is thorough and takes their time. The last time I went for a screening, the doctor barely examined me. I will not be returning!
If you and the doctor notice a suspicious spot you can then decide if you want to move forward with a biopsy. The procedure is quick and relatively painless. They give you a shot of novocaine, then remove a sliver of tissue to do a biopsy. You will have a few stiches and a small scar. After a year or so, the scar is barely visible. If the scar is larger, you can always cover it up with makeup. A scar is a small price to pay to keep cancer from spreading to other parts of your body. If the biopsy results indicate that it was cancerous, talk to your doctor about next steps and more diligent prevention.
For more information on skin cancer warning signs and how to perform a skin self-exam, go to www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/early-detection/step-by-step-self-examination
*This article is dedicated to my friend Sarah, who lost her mother Nancy to skin cancer.
Trish Marraty is a mommy
writer for The Mommies Network and
Director-Promotions & Marketing
All information is from www.skincancer.org, specific fact references below:
*1-American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2010. Link. Accessed January 24, 2011.
*2-National Cancer Institute. SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Melanoma of the Skin. Link. Accessed January 24, 2011.
*3-Bleyer A, O'Leary M, Barr R, Ries LAG (eds): Cancer epidemiology in older adolescents and young adults 15 to 29 years of age, including SEER incidence and survival: 1975-2000. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2006.
*4-Huang CL, Halpern AC. Management of the patient with melanoma. In: Rigel DS, Friedman RJ, Dzubow LM, Reintgen DS, Bystryn J-C, Marks R, eds. Cancer of the Skin. New York, NY: Elsevier Saunders; 2005:265-75.
*5-Lew RA, Sober AJ, Cook N, Marvell R, Fitzpatrick TB. Sun exposure habits in patients with cutaneous melanoma: a case study. J Dermatol Surg Onc 1983; 12:981-6.
*6-Pfahlberg A, Kolmel KF, Gefeller O. Timing of excessive ultraviolet radiation and melanoma: epidemiology does not support the existence of a critical period of high susceptibility to solar ultraviolet radiation-induced melanoma. Brit J Dermatol March 2001; 144:3:471.