In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

April 10, 2014

Spotting melanoma

By Elizabeth Harty

sk_Tennyson_02_031614.jpgIt all started with a pesky, persistent pimple (or that's what she presumed it was, anyway). Deidre Tennyson had a mole on her left cheek that had been there for a while but, last fall, she noticed a change. "It almost seemed like a pimple or blocked pore was there," she tells the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. At her husband's insistence and because it seemed like the "pimple" wouldn't go away, she went to see a dermatologist. Unfortunately, the diagnosis was not so benign.

Tests revealed that Tennyson had nodular melanoma. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and develops in the cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin -- the pigment that gives your skin its color.  Melanoma occurs when something goes awry in these cells, and according to our Mayo Clinic website, "doctors believe exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and from tanning lamps and beds is the leading cause of melanoma."

In Tennyson's case, her diagnosis meant surgery. In January, a surgical team at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire removed the melanoma from her cheek and the surrounding tissue, along with a nearby lymph node. Further tests revealed that the area and lymph node were free of cancer. Still, because of the depth of the cancer that was removed, she also had to undergo four weeks of intravenous interferon treatment followed by an at-home course of treatment for the next 11 months.

Tennyson's Mayo Clinic Health System oncologist, Sakti Chakrabarthi, M.D., credits her recovery to prompt action. "She sought medical treatment early, which is a good thing," he tells the Leader-Telegram. "She (also) is young and very healthy."

Even better than early detection is prevention. So here are a few tips on preventing melanoma (from experts here at Mayo Clinic):

  • Avoid mid-day sun. (Not too hard for those of us in these cloud-drenched Midwestern parts.)
  • Wear sunscreen year-round.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Avoid tanning beds. (Orange is not the new black.)
  • Become familiar with your skin so you notice changes early.

None of this seems too terribly hard, of course. And that's the point Tennyson hopes to get across by sharing her story: Prevention and early detection can save your life.

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Tags: Patient Stories

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