Health Team

Skin cancer can strike young, old

Posted April 13, 2011 12:04 p.m. EDT
Updated April 13, 2011 7:00 p.m. EDT

— Mollie Bleu Mitchiner, 22, is living proof that awareness and early detection are the keys to surviving skin cancer, especially the most dangerous form, melanoma.

Mitchiner said she never lay out in the sun, "but in high school, I used to tan in the tanning beds before prom to get a little color."

So when a mole on her neck began to change color and itch, she went to the doctor, who had it biopsied.

"They called me about a week later and told me it was melanoma, and I had no idea what melanoma was," she said.

Melanoma is the most potentially deadly form of skin cancer.

"It occurs in about one in 75 people will have a melanoma in their lifetime, so they're not rare," said dermatologist Dr. Tom Andrus. "But they're detectable, and they're curable as long as we find them early."

Melanoma spots can even appear in parts of the body that don't usually get exposed to the sun much, such as the scalp under hair.

"We'll see melanoma arise on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet," Andrus said. 

New spots on the skin don't necessarily mean cancer, but patients can't be certain unless the spot is biopsied. Any spot that raises a question in a person's mind should be checked by a doctor or dermatologist.

Keep track of the moles and freckles on your skin, and keep an eye on your loved ones as well.

To tell if a spot is skin cancer or just a mole gone bad, look for the ABCDs: If the spot is asymmetrical, has irregular borders and changes in color and diameter, it is likely cancer.

Dermatologists can also do full-body mapping, so they can track changes in different spots.

Fair-skinned people with light-colored eyes are most at risk, but skin cancers, including melanomas, have been known to appear on the skin of even African-Americans.

"Go to the doctor and make sure that you keep an eye on all of your moles and freckles, because you are never too young for skin cancer," Mitchiner said.

She had her melanoma surgically removed and is more diligent about using sunscreen and limiting her time in the sun.