Wholey Moley

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By wholey, I mean my whole body. By moley, I mean moles. What I’m getting at is that my whole body has always had a lot of moles. Being a fair skinned woman who loves the feel of the sun, I’ve always needed to watch my moles carefully for changes. I’ve always been advised to go for an annual check by a dermatologist to make sure none of them are turning cancerous. In the past, there have been a few I have had removed which tested as “pre-cancerous”. Well, as we all know, time flies faster as we age, and life gets busy. “Annual” usually ends up meaning every 3 or 4 years or so, when I remember that I’m overdue for the annual check. Prompted by my medical oncologist who expressed that I had FLM (funny looking moles), I went in yesterday for a consultation. I learned a few interesting things from my new dermatologist. In fact, I’m glad my medical oncologist referred me to this dermatologist, because I learned more in the 20 minutes in his office than I had known about skin cancer all my life, despite trying to inform myself over the years.

The first question I asked was, “does that fact that I just went through chemotherapy mean that any cancerous changes in my moles would have been destroyed by the chemo?” Surely, that seems logical, but the answer was counter to what I would have suspected. He said that the since the chemo weakens the immune system, thus making it harder for the body to fight things on its own, skin cancers actually tend to “come to light” during chemo. So due to the weakened immune system, skin cancers can actually grow and change more during chemotherapy.

Years ago, when I first started watching my moles for changes, I was told that I had Dysplastic Nevi (atypical moles) syndrome. Basically, anyone with a lot of large, irregular moles is at a higher risk of developing Melanoma. What I learned yesterday is that if someone with more than 6 large, irregular moles also has one immediate family member with melanoma, their risk increases to 50%. If they have two immediate family members, the risk is 100% that they will develop a melanoma. Wow!

Another thing I learned is that skin cancers don’t always appear on the parts of the body that have been exposed to the sun. Many times people miss deadly melanomas because they can appear on the bottom of the feet, in between toes and on butts, where, I can assure you, the sun has not shone (on me, anyway…)

Also, another important lesson I learned is that skin cancers don’t always appear as changing moles. In fact, most of the melanomas found on people with atypical moles arise from normal skin and not an atypical mole. The first thing the dermatologist found yesterday was a scaly patch just above my eyebrow ( a common place for skin cancers) that I did not even know existed. Sure enough, after he brought my attention to it, I could definitely feel it. This patch could have progressed to cancer without my awareness. A blast from his cryosurgery device froze that patch off in about 10 seconds. Such an easy way to halt cancer in its tracks.  Especially in comparison to the year-long battle I’m in the midst of against breast cancer.

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I learned that size does matter…when discussing moles. We all know the ABCDEs of melanoma, right? (A) Asymmetrical moles with irregular (B) borders and uneven or varied (C) color, over a certain (D) diameter that are (E) evolving can be trouble. I had some moles that fit the ABC, but were under 6mm in diameter (D), so the doctor said we didn’t even need to consider these smaller moles.

The last, and most useful thing I learned in yesterday’s informative consultation was that, much like the importance of keeping on track with my annual mammograms and breast cancer screenings (which I might not have done religiously), it is very important for me to keep up with my annual skin cancer screening. I made next year’s appointment on my way out of the office yesterday. Cuz I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow another cancer go unchecked in my lifetime…

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