Freckle, Mole, or Cancer?
Diagnosed with melanoma at 25
Recurrence at 27
Now healthy at 29
Heather Fraelick was 25 when she noticed the pink, raised spot on her right forearm. "It looked like a bug bite," she says, but when it bled and didn't seem to heal she went to the dermatologist. The bump didn't have the classic look of a melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer --but it was. "I was absolutely shocked, and I learned how deadly melanoma can be if it isn't caught early," she says. "It was much more invasive than I expected, which was really frightening." A surgeon removed the lesion as well as five lymph nodes under her arm. Luckily, all were cancer-free, which meant it hadn't spread.
Two years later, though, she noticed a tiny freckle on the scar. The melanoma had recurred, but the surgeon was able to successfully remove it. As an athlete who played sports for years without sunscreen and visited the tanning salon before her prom, Fraelick, now 29, has learned her lesson. Although she lives on the ocean in Gloucester, Massachusetts, she never goes outdoors without wearing protective clothing and plenty of sunscreen.
Lee Cavanaugh is glad she had a recurring blemish on her hairline checked out. "I was shocked that it was skin cancer because I was only 32," says the New York City interior designer. She had the basal-cell tumor removed surgically and now she's examined by her doctor every six months. "No more basking in the sun. I'm into sunless tanners now," she says.
Fraelick's and Cavanaugh's stories aren't rare. Doctors are seeing more and more skin cancer among people in their 20s and 30s. "When I was a resident, skin cancer wasn't a disease young people got," says James M. Spencer, MD, a dermatologist in St. Petersburg, Florida. "Now I see it in somebody every month." The rates in 40- and 50-year-olds continue to rise, too. He speculates that increased UV exposure is to blame. "Your grandmother didn't fly to Jamaica for a vacation, and she sure didn't go to a tanning salon, either," he adds.
No matter your age, skin color, or sun habits, early detection is key. Follow our guidelines for keeping an eye on your (and your family's) skin. Then make an appointment if anything seems vaguely suspicious. It could save your life!
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