Melanoma survival is based on early detection.
The thing about malignant melanoma, is that there are usually early signs. But it is whether we take the time to notice any changes in our skin that is the deciding factor.
The media has been shouting this out loud and clear for at least a decade on what to look for, when monitoring your skin.
Moles that change shape
Moles that bleed
Moles that are no longer symmetrical, that have one side grow funny edges.
But if you notice the above list, it is all to do with moles. This is what I thought as well. You watch for moles that change, or new ones that don't look right. You know your own body, and if you have a partner or spouse, you can check each other over once a month or so. Especially your back. If one doesn't look right, you get it checked out right?
That in itself becomes the next problem. People get busy, and because these changing moles don't usually hurt, you tend to feel silly taking time off work to set up and see the doctor. But you should. Plus while you are there, your doctor can take a look at the rest of your body, and let you know if she or he is concerned about any of the moles you have.
Not all moles that change are cancerous. Bu it doesn't hurt to check them out. As we grow older, new moles and older moles can change.
But the problem with the above, is that it is all directed at moles. But in actual fact, ANY skin changes should be looked at.
I am just as guilty about that. But the media talks about too much sun and changing moles that can be melanoma. That melanoma survival, is crucial to a early diagnosis. This is true. But the internet is also full of sites about skin cancer, and pictures of what changing moles can look like, and when to see someone.
But, did you know that a tiny slow healing cut, is just as important? I didn't. Until I lost my brother last year to Melanoma. He was a red head, with freckles, and always had to watch the sun. But being born in 1960, we grew up in a time, when everyone wanted the suntan. You didn't even dare show your white legs unless you got through that first burn, and then tanned. Many of my friends literally used to rush home from grade 9, and plaster ourselves with baby oil, to literally fry in the sun. Once you got that first burn, then it would turn to a tan, and then you would get that "copper tone" look.
There was no sunscreen, just sun tan lotion, such as copper tone, with a picture of a little girl on the front and a dog pulling at her bottoms, to reveal a white bum, and a full tanned body. This was the norm. A good dark tan was considered healthy looking.
So, now many of us from that era are paying the price, with leathery skin or skin cancer. My brother, couldn't tan, he would just burn, and back then he spent most of his time under trees, or in the house, since copper tone did nothing for him. He was excited when sun screen came out and used it faithfully. But as freckled as he was, he did not have even one mole. NO MOLES on his body at all.
So, the day, he noticed a thin cut on his thigh, that felt like a paper cut, he didn't think anything of it. It was very thin, and a bit red. He assumed he had cut himself somewhere, although he couldn't remember. He worked in a plant that made corrugated boxes, and figured he had done something at work. He worked three shifts, and many times they were twelve hour shifts. So, didn't give it much thought.
The problem was, that this was the early sign of melanoma. He didn't know it, yet but melanoma survival depended on him getting this little cut looked at. Instead he ignored it, and put some antiseptic cream on it, and carried on with his busy life for months and months.
But little did he know that this malignant melanoma was now spreading from this site (where the cut was) down the layers of skin, and into surrounding organs and lymph nodes.
He ignored this cut for months.. It just never quite healed. It kept scabbing over, then falling off, so finally he decided to go and see the doctor, simply because his jeans were annoying it, and he was fed up with it. The doctor took a look and noticed some swelling forming.
Next thing he knew he was taking time off work for a battery of tests, including a cat scan. This is when the terrible truth showed up. He was told that this melanoma had spread to other organs. He was no longer feeling well. He was angry at himself for leaving it this long. I can still hear him saying:
"I thought melanoma was moles gone bad" Not once did he form a mole.
He had the cat scan on the 18th of March 2009 and he died on April 24th 2009. He was 48 years old. There was nothing they could do but keep him comfortable. Chemotherapy does not work on melanoma. Radiation will give you a fighting chance, if it has not attacked to many organs, but by the time my brother found out the truth it had traveled from his upper thigh, to his groin, bladder, kidneys and liver.
So, if you are looking at a funny cut you have had for a while, or a strange patch of "something" just not quite right on your skin.. GET IT CHECKED OUT. It is better for a doctor to look and tell you it is fine, or take a biopsy to make sure.
After my brother died, and I was at a annual physical months later, my doctor saw a patch of darker skin on my forehead, that I didn't think twice about before, but after a biopsy, it was fine.
I know there is a fine line between living a life and living in paranoia, but if you just take a good look at your body and skin once a month. Get naked with your partner (this can be a game!) and get to know each others skin.. You will see if something changes on each other.
But remember.. moles are not the only cancer sign. Melanoma survival depends on you finding something early, whether it is a wierd spot, slow healing cut, or odd mole. Just simply look for changes that don't look right.