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Know the Early Warning Signs of Melanoma

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Melanoma Monday is a day dedicated to reminding Americans that as the weather warms up and layers are shed to protect the skin from the sun's damaging UV rays. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Like many people raised on Long Island, Melanie Heider spent her summers on the beach.

"You're there all day, you pack lunch and it's just every Saturday, Sunday," says Heider.

Heider says she always applied sunscreen. Which is why she was surprised when she discovered a funny looking mole on her leg, after reading a magazine article that suggested she do a skin check.

"The fact that it grew and changed colors was always something that was odd to me. It got just lighter and then it started bubbling up," recalls Heider.

Mount Sinai Dermatologic and Cosmetic Surgery Chief Dr. Hooman Khorasani eventually removed what turned out to be a melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer. He urges everyone to know the A, B, C, D, and Es of melanoma.

"About 50 percent of the melanomas come from pre-existing moles and a large majority of melanomas are diagnosed by patients themselves," says Dr. Khorasani.

A stands for asymmetry. If you draw an imaginary line through the mole both sides should match. B is for border, which should be smooth and not jagged. C is to look to see if the color of your mole seems to be changing like Heider's did. D is the diameter of the mole, which should be no larger than a pencil eraser. And finally, E, or any evolution in size, shape, itching or bleeding. Those are also signs you should have a professional take a closer look.

"We have an epidemic of melanoma. There's about one in 52 Americans that were diagnosed in 2012, of invasive melanoma," says Dr. Khorasani.

But melanomas can happen to almost anyone, regardless of race. Dr. Khorasani says you can protect yourself by wearing hats and sunglasses, avoid running outside between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. when the UV index is highest. Kids should wear full body suits at the beach and sunscreen should be applied every 40 minutes, 20 if you're in the water.

"The frequency that they apply is more important than actually the SPF," adds Dr. Khorasani.

Heider now has a scar where the cancer used to be, but it could have been worse if she was less proactive. Still, it's not keeping her from the beach.

"Lots of sunscreen though," she says.

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