Detecting melanoma

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
June 3, 2008 9:00:00 PM PDT
Too much sun can lead to melanoma on the face and arms. But those aren't the only places you can get it.Seven's On Call with Dr Jay Adlersberg.

Melanomas are malignant skin cancers that look like moles. They can pop up just about anywhere, even under the nails and between the toes. They can spread, and they can be deadly. We talked to a couple of people who are successfully fighting melanomas that started in unusual places.

Ceil Silver jokes about being recognized by her doctor because her hair has grown back now after chemotherapy. The chemo was to treat a melanoma cancer originally found as a mole on her left ankle.

"I had used a pummice stone on it and it bled," she said. "Every time I would start bleeding again."

Thirty-year-old Chad Whitman had a melanoma. He got a tattoo done to celebrate five head and neck surgeries and radiation treatments. A spot on his head, at the time hidden by his hair, was where he noticed a mole when he scratched his head.

By the time it was biopsied, the melanoma had spread to the lymph nodes in his neck. Head and neck melanomas tend to be more aggressive. both Ceil and Chad had the cancer in unusual places.

Most of us think of melanomas as attacking sun exposed skin, but...

"There's a small percentage of people who have melanoma in unusual places," said Dr. Anna Pavlick, of the NYU Cancer Institute. "The stomach and intestines, the soles of the feet and the eyes, as well."

But mainly they happen from too much sun on the face and arms or too many tanning parlor visits.

In the city, it's OK to get sun as long as you wear sun block on your face. Long sleeves, light weight pants and hats are the anti-melanoma dress code.

See your doctor if you have these warning signs. Unlike round benign moles, melanomas are irregular with uneven borders, multiple brown red black colors and larger than a quarter inch in diameter.

For Chad, after two and a half years of surgery, radiation and chemo, Dr. Pavlik told him good news.

As of three weeks ago, there was no disease detected. He was totally clean.

"I was overjoyed," he said. "It was like a dream that really happened. I'm overjoyed, a really good feeling."

Melanoma patients like Chad and Ceil get close follow-ups by doctors over the years, as they're at higher risk for another melanoma. Other risk factors are fair skin and blue eyes, a family history of melanoma,or a severe blistering sunburn as a kid.