Spotting skin cancer - New York News

Spotting skin cancer

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Growing up with Auburn hair and freckled skin, Anna Berrier is a natural-born burner.

"I only got sun poisoning once, which I feel is a feat, as a red-headed person."

By high school, when Anna wasn't out in the sun, she was in a tanning bed.

"I wore sunscreen, when someone told me to. But, I spent probably 22 years being irresponsible about having light skin," says the 25-year old.

Which may be how Anna ended up here at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute, with a surgical scar, at 25.

She noticed the spot just before Christmas break.

"It was on the inside of my knee. And it just started to get a little bit luminous. It kind of ballooned up. And I thought, that's weird."

The mole was small, unremarkable.

"I had a weird feeling about it, like, "This shouldn't look like this. I should probably get it off of my body."

Dr. Keith Delman, Anna's surgeon and a melanoma specialist at the Winship Cancer Institute, says the danger of melanoma is not the spot you see - but the spread you don't. Below the skin's surface, melanoma can move quickly and aggressively.

"The earlier you can catch it, the better off you are. Melanoma is one of the only cancers where a millimeter of disease can be fatal," says Dr. Delman

Dr. Delman says regularly check your skin for moles that are growing or changing.

An uneven shape. An irregular border. A mole that was one-color, that's now two.

"It can appear anywhere. It can appear in cases where you do have sun exposure, where you don't have sun exposure."

Anna was diagnosed New Year's Eve: melanoma.

"But I'm perma-positive, so I'm like, "It's fine! Everything is fine," she says.

Dr. Delman removed the cancer, and cut a wide margin around it.

Anna believes sun exposure may have opened the door for skin cancer.

And Delman says there's growing evidence tanning bed use before the age of 25 significantly raises your risk of melanoma.

"Tanning beds are a huge problem. In fact, I spent a large part of my early career going out into schools, education middle schoolers about the risks of tanning beds," says Dr. Delman

"Again this was probably always going to happen, because this is my complexion. But I could have (A) never gone to the tanning bed and (B) just been more conscientious about making sure I was always sunscreened up,” says Berrier

One thing Anna did right? When her mole didn't look right, she went with her gut.

"It's important to know that things that are changing, or you can't explain, are worth getting checked out," Dr. Delman

The doctor recommends you check your skin for changes every month. People who have had a lot of sun exposure, have a lot of moles or have a family history of melanoma should get regular exams from a dermatologist. Plus, although even darker skinned people can get melanoma, if you have light hair, eyes, or skin, like Anna, you are at higher risk for the potentially deadly disease.

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