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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Would You Bare Your Body To Fight Skin Cancer?

SKIN CANCER: A NEW EPIDEMIC

Over half of all new cancers in the U.S. are skin cancers. In fact, the number of cases in America is increasing so rapidly, the American Academy of Dermatology recently declared skin cancer an unrecognized epidemic. A recent study by the Mayo Clinic found that the incidence of basal-cell skin cancers in women under 40 tripled between 1976 and 2003. "What's even more worrisome," says Alysa Herman, M.D., a member of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, "is that people being treated for skin cancer are dramatically younger and younger."

"I GOT SKIN CANCER AT 20" Meghan, 22, journalist, Bristol, RI

I STARTED GOING TO TANNING BEDS in high school, trying to mask my Irish heritage. My friends could always get a nice, even tan in the sun, but I would burn in sporadic splotches. By senior year, I was so fed up I would sneak off behind my mother's back. She had repeatedly told me not to, but I was desperate, so I did it anyway. People had told me tanning beds were better for you than the sun, so I assumed it was OK. Of course, by college, my friends said I was going too often and that I was going to get wrinkles-or worse-but it was just one of those "it's not going to happen to me" situations. One day, I noticed a mole I'd had forever had gotten darker. I'd had a mole removed before and I was in and out in 20 minutes, so I didn't think anything of it. I did the same with this one. A week later, I went to have my stitches taken out. A doctor I'd never seen before came in to remove them. He looked concerned. "Meghan, is anyone here with you?" he asked. "No," I said. "I'm alone." That's when he broke the news: I had melanoma. The minute the words came out of his mouth, I felt like an idiot. Everyone had told me to stop tanning. Now my thoughts had begun to race: What did it mean? Would I have chemo? Would I live? I left and burst into tears. When I called my parents, I was sobbing so uncontrollably I could hardly speak, and they had no idea what my diagnosis meant. When a doctor tells a patient she has breast cancer, you know it's serious-you could lose a breast. But I couldn't comprehend how something on the outside of my body could spread to the inside! My surgery took three hours: They removed a large area of skin on my stomach and eight lymph nodes from my underarms to determine if the cancer had spread. I ended up with over 70 stitches-and two tubes sewn into me to help with drainage. "Your scar is going to be bigger than they expected," my sister said when I finally woke up. It was C-shaped and about seven or eight inches long. I had worried for weeks about that scar, but afterward, I didn't care. I just wanted to be healthy again. A week later, walking across campus, I got a call from a number I didn't recognize. It turned out to be the best news of my life: "Meghan, your lymph nodes came back clean," my surgeon said. I had gotten really lucky. Two years have passed since then. Sometimes I still hate my scar-I've had it injected to make it flat and lasered to fade it. But now I see it as something that defines who I am. I like talking about it-and telling my story.

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