One of my main hopes for this blog is that along with the updates on my progress, people will also learn to not take their health for granted. Obviously I hope that you are all now doing regular breast exams (and it makes me so happy when you tell me you are!)
Now we can add one more lesson to the list.
Don't use a tanning bed. EVER. Wear suncreen. Protect your skin.
Most people who know me well know that I have had problems with abnormal moles for several years. I have had several removed and many of those have come back either moderately or severely atypical, requiring excisional procedures (either 3 or 5 mm of tissue in either direction has to be removed from the area of the mole and sutures are placed). I usually see my dermatologist every 6 months for a full body skin exam. I was due to see her in July but delayed it because of chemo.
During my most recent visit I had 4 moles removed (FOUR!) and we are watching another one. This brings my total mole removal count to around a dozen (that I can recall). Two of the moles came back just mildly atypical, but two were moderately atypical. Out of those two, one had positive margins, so two weeks ago I had yet another excision (that brings the count for that procedure up to 5).
*Picture 2: My newest excision. In the upper left hand corner is another one of my scars.
I'll be honest, I never really wore sunscreen until the past few years. I lived in the sun when I was younger, and lived in tanning beds at the end of high school and throughout college. Who doesn't like to be tan, right? Before Derek and I got married I was in a tanning bed twice a week for 6 months! And I tanned quite a bit before his sister's wedding the following year.
Let me just say that being tan is NOT worth melanoma. I wish I would have told my younger self that.
Because of tanning beds and not using sunscreen, melanoma is becoming more and more common in younger women. If it is caught early there is an extremely good prognosis, but once it has spread the 5 and 10 year survival rates usually aren't as high.
If you have a family history of melanoma, have a lot of moles, have a history of multiple sunburns, or have used tanning beds in the past then you should be doing monthly skin exams along with your breast exams. Here is a helpful guide to what to look for when looking at moles (from the American Cancer Society)
The ABCDE Rule:
A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
You should also see a dermatologist once a year for a head to toe skin exam. Call now, because it will probably take several months to get the appointment!