Several years ago, 56-year-old Bob noticed a spot the size of a silver dollar on his leg. His primary care doc assured him it was nothing, and over the years, two other doctors agreed. Only after examining it a second time did Bob’s current physician suggest he see a dermatologist, primarily so his wife, who used to be a nurse, wouldn’t worry. The dermatologist concurred with his colleagues that the spot was probably harmless, but he did a biopsy anyway. Just to be on the safe side.
It came back as stage one melanoma.
Bob was lucky because his cancer was caught early enough to be able to be removed with surgery, but approximately 13 percent of those with melanoma (that’s about 10,000 people) will die from it this year.
Here’s how to keep from being part of that statistic:
Your first line of defense is keeping a vigilant eye on your skin. For those areas of your body that you can’t see, ask your partner to give you the once-over, and if you don’t have a partner, use mirrors to see as much as you can. Be on the lookout for spots that are irregular in shape, have an irregular border, are larger than a pencil eraser, or are dark brown, black or multi-colored. If an age spot or mole exhibits symptoms like oozing or bleeding, itchiness or pain—or if any of the spot’s characteristics changes over time—seek medical attention right away.
Ongoing self-exams should be complemented by a full-body examination by a dermatologist once a year. This is the time when you can point out any seemingly innocuous spots, bumps or blotches you’ve discovered and get a professional opinion. (But don’t wait for this exam if you spot something concerning mid-year. Get an appointment right away!) Even if your doctor finds nothing suspicious, he or she can use the findings as a baseline to detect changes in subsequent years.
As much as we’d like to believe that doctors know everything, unfortunately, they don’t. If you’re not confident about one doctor’s opinion, go for a second or third and ask for tests if they don’t readily offer them. Thankfully, Bob’s wife, the former nurse, had the nagging suspicion that his spot was “something” all along and, in turn, nagged her husband to keep getting it checked out. Advises Bob: “If you think something doesn’t look right push back, ask questions, don’t just take the first answer as gospel.”
Let us know about your experiences with skin cancer.