Sunday, November 6, 2011

Skin Cancer

I knew it was likely to happen some day, and yesterday I got the news. I have a melanoma - the kind of skin cancer can get to be aggressive and can kill you. Fortunately, mine is not yet in the aggressive state. I will get it surgically removed Tuesday and be OK. My dermatologist says that this means I need to warn all my kinfolk to get regular dermatology checkups because it often runs in families.

The attached photo shows the actual bugger on my upper arm, but I need to explain. First, the depressed area in the center is from where they biopsied it - before that, it was just a red patch of skin - not dark like they often are, didn't stand up at all and didn't seem to have any depth. Second, the red square around it is irritation from the bandaids I've been wearing to keep the antibiotic ointment on it so it could heal from the biopsy.
The thing is that it didn't really look like melanomas usually do. You use ABCDE to identify melanomas (before you biopsy).
  • A - Asymmetrical Shape. Mine is pretty much circular.
  • B - Border. They usually have an irregular border, but mine has a smooth border.
  • C -Color. "The presence of more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color can sometimes be a warning sign of melanoma." Mine is just a uniform pink.
  • D - Diameter. Usually 6mm or larger, about the size of a pencil eraser. I don't know why they use the eraser for this, the other end is the same size. Anyway, mine fit this one. It's about 8mm.
  • E - Evolution. "The evolution of your moles(s) has become the most important factor to consider when it comes to melanoma. Knowing what is normal for YOU could save your life. If a mole has gone through recent changes in color and or size, get it checked out by a dermatologist immediately." This thing appeared very suddenly on my arm where there had been nothing before. No mole.
So my melanoma only fit 1 of the 5 signs. I already knew about ABCDE, but this one didn't alarm me much, because it isn't typical. When Dr. Poliak saw it, she gave a little gasp and said, "Oh! What's this?" Like I would know. All I knew was that it was an odd little thing. It appeared very suddenly. It wasn't there and then it was. It stayed unchanged for quite a while - several months - maybe a year. She didn't say anything, but after the biopsy results came back, she told me she thought it was a melanoma all along. That's why we have dermatologists, to not be fooled by little red circles. She also said that when melanoma runs in a family, then they see ones like mine that aren't so typical.

So, all my children: Go see a dermatologist to get a baseline, and then go back periodically for checkups.