Lorie Johnson

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Check Those Moles

God bless those of you who have offered support after learning of my melanoma diagnosis. I am very grateful for the prayers and words of concern and encouragement.

I have been surprised by the number of people who have personal stories of someone they knew, often someone they loved, who died of melanoma. Tragically, in so many of the cases, it was someone young.

I could have been one of those statistics (yes, I still consider myself young!) and there, of course, is still the possibility that I may be. Nothing is certain. But the chance of my melanoma coming back is statistically low.

I recently interviewed the president of the American Academy of Dermatology Dr. David Pariser. He said all melanoma is curable if caught in time.

That is an astounding statement when you realize that one person dies of melanoma every hour.

So what needs to change in order to eradicate this hideous disease?  Two things: prevention and early detection.

First of all, prevention. Ultraviolet radiation is the cause of three-fourths of all melanomas. The more you are exposed to the sun, the more damage is accumulating.

So unfortunately, those of us who were foolishly baking in the sun in our teens and 20s must pay the price even after we've wised-up. If you have had just five sunburns or just one blistering sunburn, your chances for melanoma are increased. If you have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or red hair, your chance of getting melanoma goes up.

But here's the big thing: tanning bed use raises your risk of getting melanoma by a staggering 75 percent! Unfortunately I fit every category of high risk listed above, except the red hair.

So the best way to protect yourself from getting melanoma is to stay out of the sun and by all means, stay out of tanning beds. It's impossible to stay out of the sun completely, but you can certainly limit your sun exposure with protective clothing, staying out of the peak sun hours (11a.m.-4p.m.) and, of course, wear sunscreen...lots of it, applied often, every single day - no matter what time of year. Even if it's cloudy.

By the way, if you're still hung-up on getting that sun-kissed glow, you can do it safely. Dr. Pariser told me those spray-on tans you get at the salon are safe and all those self-tanning lotions and creams that you get at the store are also safe.

But be careful: they will not protect you against the damaging effects of the sun, so make sure you wear sunscreen even if you have a fake tan.

Personally, I wish as a society we would stop seeing tan skin as beautiful and embrace the appearance of light skin, even as light as the way my daughter describes her skin, "glow in the dark." She's very light-skinned and thank God doesn't really like being outside that much (she's an actress!). So her skin looks like that of a porcelain doll. (Spoken like a true mother.)

So that's prevention. Now let's talk about early detection. Every month you should examine your moles and get someone to help you look at areas you can't see. You should get familiar with your moles and go to the dermatologist immediately if any of your moles fit the A, B, C, D, Es of skin cancer:

  • Abnormal shape,
  • Border that's irregular,
  • Color that's irregular,
  • Diameter that's bigger than a pencil eraser,
  • Evolving, or changing in appearance.

Also, I'm adding this one: itchy. My mole itched and I have heard that's a red flag.

So in addition to your self-exams get your hair stylist to look on your scalp and your gynecologist to look, well, you know, where gynecologist's look! Melanomas can be hidden between your toes, under your fingernails, anywhere.

In addition to your self-exam, get your primary care physician to look you over at your yearly physical. You are getting yearly physicals, right? Right? You should get blood work done at your physical, too, because some cancers can be detected that way, too. You can also get a full body scan at your dermatologist.

So when it comes to moles, when in doubt, check it out. And off with their heads!

Print     Email to a Friend    posted on Thursday, September 23, 2010 4:58 PM

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