Samantha Amezcua of Munster says self-examining her skin for signs of melanoma has been incorporated into her daily routine for the last four years.
“I am looking at my moles on a daily/weekly basis. I look for brand new moles, moles with dark black coloring, changes in existing moles with color and shape along with new lesions that appear red, squishy or dry,” says Amezcua. “I see my dermatologist every three months since my melanoma.”
Both basal cell carcinoma and melanoma are hereditary in Amezcua’s family and in 2009, at age 30, Amezcua was diagnosed with melanoma. To date she has had 75 moles removed—55 of which were removed in the past 3 years.
According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States and worldwide. Despite melanoma being a form of skin cancer, it can also develop on other areas of your body such as scalp, mouth, nails, or eyes.
“While skin cancer historically occurs on the head and neck area 85% of the time, the important thing to be aware of is that they can occur anywhere on the body. Over the years I have had patients referred from their gynecologists as well as podiatrists,” says Dr. Michael Malczewski of Cosmetic & Plastic Surgery of Northwest Indiana. “In my practice we see new cases of basal cell carcinoma of the skin daily, new cases of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin weekly, and new cases of melanoma, or its precursors, just about weekly as well. It has exhibited a more dramatic increase in incidence than any other cancer, and why it doesn't get more press is beyond me.”
Malczewski, who has been caring for melanoma patients since 1987, says he has treated melanoma in a patient as young as 8.
“The prognosis for melanoma overall is actually quite good, but that hinges on early diagnosis,” says Malczewski.
Dr. Mitchell Bressack, a dermatologist at Dermatology Center of Northwest Indiana and Malczewski agree that early diagnosis is contingent on thorough self-examinations.
“Self-exam is the most important thing, and, if someone sees a mole that they think is changing or is suspicious to them, they should see a dermatologist, regardless of age,” says Bressack.
Joan Filipowski, a nurse at Franciscan Alliance, says when doing self-exams to remember that not all moles on your body go through a series of changes, only some of them.
“The ones that do go through changes can become a basal cell carcinoma or a squamous cell carcinoma and others can become melanomas. Melanoma can also suddenly appear as a new dark spot on the skin,” says Filipowski.
Malczewski says the key to early detection is patients being vigilant and doing monthly self-exams of their skin—nose to toes.
“If you can look at a mole, freckle, red spot, lump, bump, etc. and say "this looks very different from a couple of months ago, that is relevant and warrants a trip to your doctor,” says Malczewski.
Bressack says in addition to self-exams he stresses to his patients that protection from the sun is the best thing they can do to protect themselves from skin cancer.
“In general, if an area is not covered by adequate clothing, it should have sunscreen applied to it,” says Bressack.
Bressack says to determine if what you are wearing can protect you from the sun, hold the clothing up to the light. If you see light coming through it, it is not protecting you from the sun, and sunscreen should be applied beneath that piece of clothing.
“By not wearing sunscreen the chances of having basal cell skin cancer is high and many people are not aware of that,” says Amezcua. “Speaking about melanoma and sharing my story is something I do with every opportunity possible. My hope is to encourage people to see a dermatologist, educate them on the dangers of not using daily sunscreen and help them see that skin cancer can happen to someone as young as I.”
For support or information on melanoma visit melanoma.org.
Possible picture caption: Samantha and Manuel Amezcua of Munster ran Miles For Melanoma, sponsored by the Melanoma Research Foundation, in July. They formed a team called Cancer Crushers and came in second place for the most funds raised. The Amezcuas are in preliminary works with the Melanoma Research Foundation to host the first gala in Chicago in order to drive awareness to a younger demographic.