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Special Report: Northern Exposure - Your Skin Cancer Risk

Darren Danielson
Updated: July 18, 2019 02:43 PM

Three little words, you have cancer, can shake the foundation of your whole world.

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When the doctor said that to me, I feared the worst. Like many who have faced a serious medical diagnosis, my mind immediately went to my wife and my kids.

It's melanoma the doctor told me - a dangerous and tricky form of skin cancer.

Most skin cancers are basal-cell carcinoma, which 90 percent of skin cancer cases are. Basal-cell cases are fortunately the least aggressive and the easiest to treat. Melanoma on the other hand, is more serious, is the most aggressive, the most unpredictable and is the least common.

Dr. Jeff Evanson with St. Luke’s Dermatology Associates told me that in the worst case scenarios, melanoma spreads away from the original site and if left untreated, can break away from the original site and spread to lymph nodes, the lungs and brain. "That's why it is so critical to catch melanoma early," he says. "And why it's so important to get rid of it immediately."

Getting rid of it, Dr. Evanson says is the only way to determine with certainty whether it's cancerous. "Remove it from the skin, send it to the lab and have them evaluate it under a microscope, actually look at the cells."

When that was done on a mole I had, they found there were melanoma cells growing on the surface of my skin that needed to be addressed. Another appointment was set and he and his surgical staff removed it, and tissue around the area, and they got it all. No chemotherapy, no radiation in my case, just removal. and now frequent and regularly scheduled skin checks.

So, what does skin cancer look like, and how do you check for it? If you have any moles on your skin, Dr. Evanson says to remember the a-b-c-d-e of moles.

A is for asymmetry. Normal moles are evenly shaped.
B is for borders. You want sharp borders not faded edges.
C is for color. Variation of color is concerning.
D is diameter. Normal moles should not be bigger than a pencil eraser.
E is for evolving. Watching for any changes in moles.

The sun appears to be the primary cause of skin cancer, although genetics also plays a major role.

One in five Americans will get skin cancer during their life time. Dr. Evanson says one group in particular is seeing an alarming increase.

"Melanoma has become the second most common skin cancer in young women and girls aged 15 to 25," he says. "And the case rate for that population continues to grow."

(After the airing of our story, Dr. Evanson said he wished to correct this statement to correctly say, "Melanoma has become the second most common cancer overall in girls 15-25.)  

You might think the warm and sunny, southern states would have the highest rate of skin cancer. Not true, in fact, Minnesota, and other northern states actually have the highest rates in the nation.

Researchers believe that's partly because our type of summer weather allows us northerners to spend more time having fun in the sun, and that we tend to also not take the damaging sun exposure as seriously as folks do in the south.

And Dr. Evanson is quick to point out, it's not just the sun that's dangerous. "All ultraviolet exposure, sun, tanning booths, sun-treatment booths, or light treatment booths, all ultraviolet light contributes to skin cancer."

We can enjoy our great outdoors, but we should not ignore our skin when we do.

"Generally at least SPF 30 is what you want in a sunscreen," Dr. Evanson says. "You want to use it frequently too, throughout the day applying and re-applying it. Also, protective clothing can help, and try to avoid intentional sun exposure if you are not protected."

I feel fortunate that we discovered my cancer early, before it spread. Now, I'm being monitored closely, with frequent check ups.

So my take-away from all this is, protect your skin, watch for any of those warning signs and enjoy every single day.

For more resources through St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth, click here.

For information and support on the Iron Range, contact the Virginia Area Cancer Support Group at (218) 248-5582. This group is open to all cancer patients, family members, and caregivers and provides multiple supportive services and links to community resources. The group meets regularly and also by private appointment." Emails to cat1@rangenet.com

Credits

Darren Danielson

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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