30 Apr 2014

How Long Has That Been There?

LookingatamoleA few years ago, I got a big wake-up call.

It all started very innocently as a routine “get-to-know you” visit with a new dermatologist. I’d just moved to Asheville and since I’m at very high risk for skin cancer, I wanted get established with someone.

I grew up in the era of iodine and baby oil, but God bypassed me when it came to tanning genes. So, I’ve had more than my share of severe sunburns. I also had an uncle who died of melanoma, and a dad who’s had his face carved on more than a few times.

So, at my first visit, my new dermatologist got up-close-and-personal with her magnifying glass. She pointed to a spot under my left eye that looked like 5 other spots on my face and asked, “How long has that been there?”

“Not too long,” I said.

“I don’t like the way it looks.”

Next thing I knew, I was having a biopsy that turned out to be basal cell skin cancer. Not the news I was looking for.

Here are few tips that may help keep you from ending up like me:

1.  Use sunscreen…and lots of it…often. But not the kind with avobenzone or oxybenzone (they’re hormone disruptors).

The biggest mistake people make with sunscreen is not using enough. To ensure that you get the full SPF of a sunscreen, you need to apply 1 oz – about a shot glass full. Studies show that most people apply only half to a quarter of that amount, which means the actual SPF they have on their body is lower than advertised.

The second biggest mistake: not reapplying often enough. Sweat and water remove sunscreen…even if the bottle says “water resistant” reapply anyway. Every 2 hours.

2. Stay out of tanning beds. They are NOT safe (and you’ll look old and wrinkly faster).

3.  Do self-screenings. Know what abnormal spots look like. Look for irregular moles. Watch for changes or places that won’t heal. Have your partner or a friend check out places you can’t see well. My aunt is the one who found my uncle’s melanoma. It was on his back.

4. Get yearly skin cancer screenings by a dermatologist. It takes so little time and it may save your life.

Even though I got scary news, I’m glad I went. Waiting could have made the surgery I had more extensive and disfiguring. I had Moh’s surgery, so I know it’s all gone (and you can’t even see where it was). My risk of recurrence is high, so I’m on the 6-month visit plan. I’ve turned into a daily wearer of sunscreen…and I’m even trying to learn to like hats!

Dr. Anna Garrett


  1. […] likelihood of skin cancer goes up as you age, especially if you were an “iodine and baby oil” teenager (you know who you […]

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