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Catching melanoma early: Carrie's story

Wearing a white lab coat, Carrie McCann looks up from the desk where she's seated, sorting out files at the clinic where she works.

While sunning herself on a beach in Mexico, Carrie McCann noticed an unusual spot on her stomach. In the warm sun, the fleshy pink-colored spot would darken and itch slightly. Although she wasn't overly concerned, the 24 year-old nurse thought she should have it checked out when she returned home.

"I had just met someone who had melanoma, and as I have a lot of moles that should be checked out, I decided to visit a dermatologist," says McCann.

What's melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs in the melanocytes. These epidermal cells produce melanin, a pigment that colors the skin and iris of the eyes.

Melanoma is the most serious and most deadly form of skin cancer. It's also on the rise in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimated that 55,100 people would be diagnosed with melanoma in 2004. In 2006, that number increased to 62,190.

McCann's spot didn't look like melanoma, which usually appears as a dark black, irregular shaped mole. McCann also has no family history of melanoma. But she does have very fair skin and many moles, both of which are associated with an increased risk of melanoma.

Diagnosis and treatment

A skin biopsy revealed that McCann did have melanoma .

"I was lucky," says McCann. "My diagnosis was malignant melanoma in situ."

"In situ" is Latin for "in place." MaCann's cancer in situ was confined to the epidermis, or the top layer of her skin.

McCann returned to the dermatologist who surgically removed her tumor and some surrounding tissue. She visited her dermatologist every three months for full body scans and a physical examination. At these visits, the doctor also removed and tested any suspicious moles for cancer.

Lifestyle changes

To help keep skin cancer from returning, McCann has made some changes in her life.

"I definitely make sure to wear at least a SPF 15 sunscreen and reapply it frequently when out in the sun," says McCann. "I also wear a sun hat and fuller coverage clothing."

Her visits to the dermatologist inspired another change. McCann has become a full-time dermatology nurse.

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Source: American Cancer Society; Carrie McCann, RN; United Hospital, Healthy Communities Magazine, spring 2004

First published: 06/30/2004
Last updated: 07/03/2006

Reviewed by: Paul Kleeberg, MD, medical director, Allina.com