Melanoma is the most common and deadliest form of skin cancer in the US On what dermatologists call Melanoma Monday, a twice-diagnosed survivor has a message.
Melanoma is a common and extremely deadly form of skin cancer. On what dermatologists call Melanoma Monday, a twice-diagnosed survivor has a message.
“Anyone can get melanoma; anyone can get skin cancer. Bob Marley died of melanoma,” said Liz Hazuka, 34, of Reston, Virginia.
Hazuka has fair skin, red hair, and freckles. Her first melanoma attack occurred when she was 25 years old, it was found during a routine check-up at the dermatologist’s office.
“Fortunately, I found it early,” he said. “The first one was a bit invasive. It was a stage 1A. Fortunately, he only needed a wide local excision. There was only one surgery. So, I have about a 4-inch scar on my right calf.”
Hazuka’s second melanoma was detected even earlier. She said that the experience of having to mitigate cancer has changed her life.
“I never go out in the sun without sunscreen and without long sleeves. I really avoid the sun at the peak of noon; my beach days, going there all day, are behind me,” she said.
Hazuka said she became so passionate about helping people avoid a late melanoma diagnosis that she changed careers and is now studying to become a physician assistant.
“I have a year and a half left. And I hope to one day work in dermatology,” she said.
Hazuka said that she is concerned about people who might be taking unnecessary risks.
“I think especially for young women. There is this pressure to look a certain way and go out and get a tan, get into a tanning booth or lay in the sun all day. But not only can it increase your risk of skin cancer, it also ages your skin much faster,” she said.
Exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause all forms of skin cancer. But there are certain types of cancer that are more related to genetics and family history.
While Hazuka’s stage 1A cancer was on the back of her calf, a DC dermatologist said skin cancer can appear anywhere on the body.
“This can include the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Even where the sun literally doesn’t shine on your groin or your buttocks,” said Dr. Adam Friedman, professor and chair of dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Although extremely rare, melanoma can also occur under a nail bed, Friedman said. The melanoma that killed reggae icon Bob Marley first appeared as a dark spot under his toenail.
“This can appear as a long, growing black streak on the nail that can change over time,” Friedman said. “There is some evidence that exposure to ultraviolet radiation at the nail salon may actually increase the risk of this type of skin cancer.”
Both Friedman and Hazuka emphasize the importance of regular professional skin checks and being familiar with the changes that occur in your body.
“I tell all of my patients to get checked at least once a month, or every other month, to look for new growths or spots, or spots that change over time,” Friedman said. “It’s that evolution over time that really indicates something might be wrong and would warrant getting it checked out by a board-certified dermatologist.”
Some of the changes could be in the size or shape of a spot; the edge could go from being very well cut to somewhat fuzzy; color changes may become more pronounced or fade to paler. They are all signs that something is wrong.
“Waiting isn’t going to make it go away,” said Hazuka. “If you ever see something new or changing, or if something doesn’t feel right, go in and get it checked out.”
One person dies of melanoma nearly every hour in the US But if it’s caught early, there’s a 95% cure rate just by removing it, Friedman said.
“So the most important thing is to catch it early,” Friedman stressed. “Early detection saves lives.”