“I’m dealing as best I can with something out of my control.”
Teddi Mellencamp is giving an update on her skin cancer battle after having 12 melanomas removed in 2022. “First off, I am forever appreciative of the outpouring of love and support,” the former The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star captioned an Instagram post. “Now an update: I went in for my 4-6 week checkup and there were three new spots my doctors felt needed to be biopsied. I’m getting a lot of questions about the spots being white. I have had both white and brown melanomas; this is why I continue to share to get checked no matter what.
“Also, recently I felt a bump on my neck. My anxiety, of course, took over. I touched it at least 303 times. However, day of appointment, I assumed it was nothing. And then the ultrasound came back irregular. I had the option of a needle biopsy or getting it cut out completely; the doctor recommended the biopsy to start, however there’s a small chance it’ll come back inconclusive and we will then have to remove it. As someone who is a controlled person, I’m dealing as best I can with something out of my control. Things I can control: staying on top of my appointments, self-checks, and asking my doctors questions. I’m trying my best to stay positive and will fill you in when I get the results. If this saves even one person from going through what I’m going through, it’s worth it #melanomaawareness.”
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer both in the US and worldwide. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent if detected early—which is why regular checkups and being aware of the signs is so important. “We classify skin types into six categories, from the freckled complexion of redheaded people with light eyes, to the deepest dark skin tones,” says UCI Health dermatologist Natasha Mesinkovska, MD, PhD. “We see the most skin cancers in type 1 and 2 (light skin), but the risk is still there across the board.”
The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (both non-melanoma skin cancers), and melanoma. “Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It develops in cells called melanocytes that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color,” says dermatologist Dr. Alison Bruce. “The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation increases your risk of developing the disease. This can come from sunlight, as well as from tanning lamps and tanning beds.
“Also, genetic factors and skin type can play a part in developing skin cancer. The number of melanoma cases has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, especially among middle-age women. The increase may be linked to the rise of tanning bed use in the 1980s, when many women now in their 40s and 50s were in their teens. Melanoma that goes unchecked and spreads can be difficult to treat. But when it’s caught early, melanoma often is curable.”
2. Basal Cell Carcinoma
“Basal cell carcinoma isn’t only the most common type of skin cancer, it’s also the most common cancer, period,” says Anisha Patel, MD. “Fortunately, it also tends to be one of the least aggressive, and normally only requires surgical removal to treat it. These cancers tend to grow pretty slowly, too, so when we see one that’s so large it can’t be easily cut off, it’s usually because someone left it there for a really long time. We do see some unusual cases here at MD Anderson, but it’s still rare for patients to need additional treatment.
“Basal cell carcinomas are primarily caused by excess UV light exposure. But they’re also more likely to develop in skin that’s been treated with radiation therapy. They’re usually pink in color and translucent — almost pearly — in appearance. They’re typically diagnosed when patients have a skin screening, but sometimes patients will notice something unusual on their own and come in to have it checked out.”
3. Squamous Cell Carcinoma
“Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer diagnosed each year,” says Dr. Patel. “In terms of aggression, it falls somewhere between basal cell carcinoma and melanoma. Like basal cell carcinoma, it can be red or pink in color. The difference is that squamous cell carcinoma is normally scaly and ‘hyperkeratotic’ — or rough to the touch, due to a build-up of hard, dead skin.”
Dr. Patel highlights the link between squamous cell and leukemia. “This type of skin cancer is another one that’s caused by sun damage. But certain types of leukemia can also increase patients’ chances of developing squamous cell carcinoma. And certain targeted therapies, immunotherapies and chemotherapies — or even the immunosuppressant drugs used after a stem cell transplant — can make patients more likely to develop it… Squamous cell carcinoma is typically found during skin cancer screening exams or noticed by patients. It’s usually treated the same way as basal cell carcinoma: by cutting the cancer out. But in cases where a patient is immunocompromised, or the cancer has spread or is showing aggressive tendencies — such as wrapping itself around nearby nerves or blood vessels — we also might treat it with immunotherapy or radiation therapy.”
4. Skin Cancer Signs
“When checking your skin for possible concerns, keep in mind the ABCDEs of skin cancer,” says Dr. Bruce. Here are signs of skin cancer to be aware of:
- “A” is for asymmetry: watch for moles or markings that are irregularly shaped, or where one half looks different from the other.
- “B” is for border, where the borders of the mole are uneven, jagged or scalloped.
- “C” is for color, with the color of the mole varying from one area to another. Variation of color within a mole is something to have checked.
- “D” is for diameter. If you have a mole larger than about one-quarter of an inch in diameter, have it checked.
- And “E” is for evolving: If a mole changes in size, shape or color, or if there’s bleeding, itching or tenderness, it’s important to have it evaluated promptly.
Dr. Bruce recommends seeing a dermatologist to check areas of the skin a person might miss. “It is important to be familiar with your skin so you can notice changes, but it’s always a good idea to be evaluated by a dermatologist for a baseline skin check. While regular self-evaluation make it more likely that melanoma and other types of skin cancer will be caught early, having a trained expert look for subtle changes you may not see is always helpful. The earlier skin cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances are of curing it.”
5. Helping Prevent Skin Cancer
Most skin cancers are preventable, says Elizabeth Demaree, D.O. Here are her tips for staying safe in the sun (and in the shade!).
- Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., which are the peak hours of sun strength in North America, even in the winter and on cloudy days.
- Wear sunscreen — at least sun protection factor (SPF) 30 — throughout the entire year. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.
- Wear sun-protective clothing with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50+, which blocks 98% of the sun’s rays. Hats with wide brims and sun-protective clothing that covers your arms and legs are helpful to protect your skin from harmful UV damage. Sunscreen doesn’t block all UV rays, which cause skin cancer.
- Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds operate with UV lights, damaging your skin and potentially leading to cancer.
- Self-check your skin. If you notice differences, talk with your health care team.
Dr. Mesinkovska says seeing a dermatologist should be as “commonplace as a mammogram, prostate exam or pap smear. Changing skin spots warrant a closer look. Some people are almost apologetic when they come in but I tell them that there is no such thing as a silly question about a changing spot. I can’t tell you how many lives are saved because people come in for a ‘silly’ reason… The ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a carcinogen. We need to treat it as such and take precautions.”
Read full article on the “Eat This, Not That!” website.