My PSA about Melanoma
A while ago I wrote an article about the first time I went to see my new GP, and how after taking my history she noted I was at increased risk for skin cancer. Why? Because as someone with psoriasis I try my best to get sun in the summer and I’ve been for two rounds of phototherapy. Melanoma (a type of skin cancer) is one of a few cancers that can present in younger adults. Consider this my public service announcement (PSA)!
A suspicious mole
One of my friends on Facebook decided to share her close call with melanoma. My friend is 32 and was at the Dermatologist for something else when he noticed a suspicious mole on her stomach. When comparing to earlier photos my friend agreed that yes, it had grown a bit in size, but that was over a 10-year period. To be safe the Dermatologist took a biopsy and the results came back as Stage 0 melanoma. This means the cancer had not spread beyond the epidermis, but it was a huge wake-up call for my friend who had spent many childhood summers outside with no sunscreen.
One appointment later
I had many similarities with my friend. I too had rarely worn sunscreen as a kid, had spent a lot of time outside, and had very fair skin. Layer on that my extra adult love for the sun because it’s so helpful for my psoriasis. I had also never really done a “mole check.” I knew they were important but considered myself too young to need one. Naïve, I know! I have one mole on my leg that’s always been a bit of an outlier (and I’ve honestly had it as long as I can remember). I made an appointment with my GP, she biopsied it, and it was diagnosed as a Clark’s mole, a type of pre-cancerous lesion. My GP told me that this is exactly the type of mole that turns into melanoma and that I’d have to book another appointment to have the rest of it cut out.
A lesson learned
Now that I’ve done some reading about melanoma, it’s clear I should have had this mole checked out years before. It displayed all the signs that should prompt you to make a Doctor’s appointment. Here’s the melanoma ABCDE list:
- A- Asymmetrical, one half of your mole is not a perfect mirror of the other half
- B- Border, the border of your mole is irregular and/or not defined (it might be fuzzy, lobed, etc.)
- C- Color, the color of your mole is not uniform (it might be different colors, or darker in some places)
- D- Diameter, your mole is more than 6-7mm in diameter (that’s about a quarter inch, roughly the size of a pencil eraser)
- E- Evolving, your mole is changing (even if the change is very slight or over a long period of time)
So do me a quick favor and check yourself for moles that meet even one of these criteria. If you find any, make an appointment with your GP or Dermatologist to see if a biopsy is needed. Better safe than sorry is a good motto to live by!
Other risk factors and other skin cancer
In addition to soaking up major rays, there are other risk factors for melanoma. Tanning and sunburns both increase your risk, as does having a family history of skin cancer, having many moles, and having light skin, hair, and eyes. It’s also important to mention that melanoma is just one type of skin cancer. There are two other major types, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), both of which are grouped together as non-melanoma skin cancer. They may look very different than melanoma, sometimes presenting as sores that don’t heal or bleed easily (but they can look very different, maybe just a growth that is itchy, a strange-looking wart, or even scaly red patches). When in doubt, check it out!
I’m not sharing my story to worry you unnecessarily, only to invite you to continue being your own health advocate. You know what they say: “the more you know… the more you know!” Check yourself for suspicious moles/lesions and don't be afraid to book an appointment.
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