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Melanoma can be missed if you don’t check for skin cancer

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Patient story

Melanoma can be missed if you don't check for skin cancer

Andy Jacobs knows how easy it is to miss a cancerous spot on your skin. Days before being diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, he was unaware that he had a cancerous growth on his skin.

Fortunately, his wife, Monica, knew the signs of melanoma. If she hadn’t, Andy might not be alive today.

Monica spotted the growth on Andy’s skin while they were in Florida. They had just returned from the beach when she noticed a spot on the back of his knee. Monica recalled, “It looked like a classic textbook melanoma. It was raised, brownish black with jagged edges, and broken apart.”

Andy wasn’t worried. He didn’t feel any different, and he hadn’t noticed the spot on the back of his knee until Monica pointed it out.

She asked him to make an appointment that week to see a dermatologist. He told her, “I’ll get to it when I get to it.” Monica persisted, telling him, “This week, not when you get to it.”

Fortunately, Andy took his wife’s advice. When he went to his dermatology appointment, he wasn’t worried. Andy recalls, “Even during the skin exam, I kept thinking that my dermatologist would say it’s nothing.” Instead, she said, “I think you have melanoma.”

His dermatologist told him that she wouldn’t know for sure until she performed a skin biopsy and got the results.

While waiting for the biopsy results, Andy really started to worry. He remembers, “My worrying went from 0 to 10.” Andy didn’t have to wait too long. The skin biopsy results came back in 48 hours, confirming that he had melanoma. Andy was 48 years old.

To give Andy comprehensive patient care, his dermatologist partnered with board-certified dermatologist Mark Chastain, MD, FAAD, who specializes in Mohs surgery and advanced reconstructive surgery.

Board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon Mark Chastain, MD, FAAD

You can find skin cancer early when it’s highly treatable by checking your skin for signs of skin cancer.

─ Board-certified dermatologist Mark Chastain, MD, FAAD

On the day of the surgery, Dr. Chastain told Andy “It’s a good thing that you came in when you did.”

To remove the melanoma, Dr. Chastain cut out the entire growth and an area of skin around it. After the surgery, Andy’s father-in-law said, “It looks like the surgeon took off your leg and then put it back together.”

“Today, you wouldn’t know I had surgery unless you look closely,” Andy says. More importantly, Dr. Chastain successfully removed the melanoma.

Having had skin cancer increases your risk of developing another skin cancer

Anyone who has had skin cancer has a higher risk of developing another skin cancer, so Andy sees his general dermatologist for regular skin cancer exams.

Thanks to these follow-up skin cancer exams, Andy, who is now 63 years old, has been successfully treated for a second melanoma and the two most common types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Dr. Chastain performed all the surgeries, which included removing a melanoma from behind Andy’s ear. Andy recalls how worried he was right before that surgery. He feared that Dr. Chastain might have to remove part of or all his ear.

Hoping to calm her husband before that surgery, Monica asked Dr. Chastain to reassure Andy that the surgery wouldn’t involve removing any part of his ear. Dr. Chastin replied, “I don’t know yet. I’ll try to save his ear.”

After four skin cancer surgeries, Andy Jacobs walks his youngest daughter down the aisle

I’m so grateful for the expertise of Dr. Chastain and my other dermatologists, who made it possible for me to walk my youngest daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.

─ Andy Jacobs, patient

Andy is grateful that Dr. Chastain was able to treat the melanoma without removing any part of his ear. He’s also grateful for the four successful skin cancer surgeries that Dr. Chastain performed and the expert care he’s received from all his dermatologists.

Andy encourages his clients to get screened for skin cancer

Andy, who is an insurance representative, pays it forward by telling clients about the importance of getting screened for skin cancer.

He tells clients, “We live in the South, and without knowing it, we may have done a lot of damage to our skin. That damage puts us at higher risk of developing skin cancer.”

Andy encourages anyone who has never had a skin cancer screening to see a board-certified dermatologist for a screening. He urges anyone who has a dermatologist to get screened as often as recommended.

He doesn’t want anyone to miss a melanoma like he almost did.

Dr. Chastain says you can find skin cancer early

“The vast majority of skin cancers can be effectively treated when caught early,” says Dr. Chastain.

To find skin cancer early, Dr. Chastain recommends that you check your own skin for signs of skin cancer. “You can do a skin cancer self-exam in the shower or have your partner check your skin,” he says.

To help you perform skin cancer self-exams, the American Academy of Dermatology created the Skin cancer body mole map infographic. On this infographic, you’ll see the signs to look for on your skin and learn how to examine your skin. There’s also a place for you to note what you found.

Andy, Dr. Chastain, and the American Academy of Dermatology encourage you to use this infographic to check your skin so that you don’t miss a melanoma or another type of skin cancer. Starting today can help you find skin cancer early when it’s highly treatable.

Written by:
Paula Ludmann, MS

Reviewed by:
Mark Chastain, MD, FAAD
Andy Jacobs
Carrie L. Kovarik, MD, FAAD
Natalie H. Matthews, MD, FAAD
Darrell S. Rigel, MD, FAAD
Sanna Ronkainen, MD, FAAD

Last updated: 10/20/23