Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Powerful First-Hand Accounts from Real Patients
As the sunny days grow longer and summer draws near, it’s the perfect time to shed light on an issue of paramount importance – skin cancer. May is recognized as Skin Cancer Awareness Month, a time when individuals and communities come together to raise awareness about the dangers of this prevalent disease and emphasize the ways to protect yourself. In this blog, we share two compelling first-hand accounts from melanoma patients of Board-Certified Dermatologist Dr. Mahsa Karavan and how trusting their instincts and skin self-exams led to early, life-saving diagnoses. Join us on this journey as we encourage you to empower yourself with knowledge, implement proactive habits, and inspire others to prioritize their skin health during Skin Cancer Awareness Month and beyond.
Patient #1 – D.P.
First, let’s hear from patient D.P. about how trusting her intuition led to an early diagnosis:
“I became aware of the dangers of melanoma during the last few years when my husband had to have melanoma surgery (twice). Since melanoma was in his family history but not in mine, I thought I was not as much at risk as he was, even though I have fair skin. However, I started noticing a mole on my outer thigh that seems to be gradually getting larger. Because of my husband’s experience, I thought maybe I should get it checked out even though it was barely the size of a pencil eraser.
So last summer I went to a local dermatologist and showed her the mole. She assured me that it was nothing to worry about and said that she would just freeze it off. I expressed my surprise since the mole looked like the ones on the melanoma poster in the exam room. Again, she reassured me that freezing it would take care of it. I thought, “Well, she’s the expert, so I guess that’s what it needs.” She quickly performed the procedure, and I went home. The area healed in about a month, but the mole still seemed to be there. I went back and forth in my mind about whether to get a second opinion. Finally, I started looking for another dermatologist.
Since I am more comfortable seeing a female physician, I narrowed my search down to the ones in my area. As I was reading the bios on the U.S. Dermatology Partners (Plano) website, I noticed one for Dr. Mahsa Karavan-Jahromi. What caught my attention were the following words: “She is particularly passionate about early detection of melanoma. Within her first 3 years of practice, Dr. Karavan diagnosed and treated over 600 melanomas, over 70% of which were caught at the earliest possible stage called ‘melanoma in situ’.” I made my appointment and saw her on September 20, 2022.
Dr. Karavan was very thorough and agreed that the mole looked suspicious. She very quickly removed the mole, and in a few days, I got a call from her that indeed, it was melanoma. In October she surgically removed the area where the melanoma was, making sure that there were no melanoma cells left. Although we seem to have taken care of it before the melanoma spread, Dr. Karavan sees me every three months and checks me from head to toe, including lymph nodes, to make sure there are no other areas of concern. Of course, I regularly examine my skin and also use UV protection if I am going to be outside.
I am so grateful that I acted on my discomfort and saw Dr. Karavan. She took my concerns seriously and quickly took action, possibly saving my life. Besides being a skillful dermatologist, Dr. Karavan is also a very kind, caring person, which makes it less stressful to continue my dermatology care.”
Dr. Karavan had this to say, “D.P.’s story is unfortunately not uncommon. Melanoma can start out as a subtle new mole or a subtle change to an existing mole. Sometimes such changes are so minor that even some dermatologists can misdiagnose the spot as a normal-appearing mole or an age spot (seborrheic keratosis). In D.P.’s case, the concerning lesion was frozen with liquid nitrogen which is very dangerous for melanoma. If the lesion is frozen rather than biopsied and treated with an excision, the melanoma can advance and metastasize without detection. Freezing a melanoma can alter the appearance on the surface of the skin making it harder to detect or completely invisible at the epidermis level, while the invasive component (aka the roots of the skin cancer) can continue to grow deeper in the dermis. In this case, we were lucky that the frozen lesion recurred on the surface of the skin and D.P. came in to have to have it checked again. She had an intuition that this spot did not look right, it was coming back darker. I’m happy that she followed her intuition and came in for a second opinion before her melanoma had a chance to advance any further.”
Patient #2 – S.A.
Next, we hear from patient S.A. about how her husband’s keen observance was critical in getting an early diagnosis:
“A few months ago, at the age of 30, I found out that I had a Melanoma spot on my lower back. I hadn’t been to a dermatologist in about 10 years. When I was a teenager, I went to see a dermatologist and they discovered a pre-melanoma spot on my upper back. They removed the spot and I continued to live my life, not really giving it that much thought. Over the last year, the thought that I should see a dermatologist again began gnawing at me. I kept putting off making an appointment until one day when my husband noticed a spot on my back that he had never seen before. I had a skin check with Dr. Karavan and she biopsied the spot, it turned out to be stage 1 Melanoma, and a second spot on my calf came back as pre-melanoma. This was a sobering moment for me. I hadn’t given my health much thought and now here I am going to the doctor’s more than I ever have before. Taking the time to get yearly skin checks is a lot easier than going through skin cancer removal, and post-melanoma lifestyle changes. “
Dr. Karavan noted, “Monthly at-home skin checks with the help of a mirror or partner are critical in patients at risk for melanoma. If you or your partner notice a new or changing mole and come in as soon as possible, it could be the difference between catching a melanoma at the earliest stage or an advanced disease with higher mortality. Melanoma can grow rapidly, even if you get your skin checked once a year, unfortunately, a melanoma can advance within that time frame. Ideally, we would find melanoma at stage zero or what is termed ‘melanoma in situ’, at that stage it has no potential for metastasis. Once melanoma reaches stage 1 or beyond, there is potential for metastasis with higher concern for future recurrence. The only thing better than the prevention of cancer is early detection!”
The stories shared by D.P. and S.A., along with the insights from Dr. Karavan, highlight the critical importance of skin cancer awareness and prevention. Trusting one’s instincts, performing regular self-exams, and seeking professional opinions when in doubt can make all the difference in catching melanoma at its earliest stages. Further, while we focus on skin cancer in May, let us remember that skin cancer awareness and prevention are not confined to a single month but should be an ongoing commitment, as our skin deserves our utmost care and protection every day of the year.
If you are concerned about a suspicious-looking spot or want to schedule an annual skin examination, the team at U.S. Dermatology Partners is here for you. We make it quick and easy to get started. Take a few moments to complete our online scheduling request form. Once we receive your request, one of our local dermatology team members with be in touch to answer your questions and schedule your visit to our office.
About U.S. Dermatology Partners
U.S. Dermatology Partners is one of the largest and most sought-after dermatology practices in the country, caring for more than 1.5 million patients each year. With over 100 locations across eight states that span large metroplexes and rural, underserved communities, they provide the benefits of private, personalized levels of care paired with a network of coordinated, specialized dermatology physicians. U.S. Dermatology Partners is fervently focused on providing the highest level of compassionate and comprehensive patient-first care, making it seamless for all people to connect with dermatologists and national leaders in areas such as clinical research, psoriasis, and Mohs surgery, and gain access to state-of-the-art dermatological treatments, surgical and cosmetic dermatology. To learn more, visit usdermatologypartners.com.
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