Early Detection of Melanoma: January 30, 2012

With fair hair and fair skin, Pat Pinner knew he faced a better than fair risk for skin cancer.

“One day I found something that didn’t look right and I thought that it made sense to go get it checked out.”

A multi-colored mole with an irregular texture and shape concerned him enough to visit the doctor.

“It was my right calf, and it had all the things they say you need to look for,” says Pat.

A biopsy revealed the worst: it was not only cancer, but melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin caner.

“Despite all the things that I saw and all the warnings, I still believed that he would tell me it was nothing,” says Pat.

It was not what he wanted to hear but oncologist Frank Rodriguez says it may have been his luck day.

“If melanoma gets picked up early, usually a surgery is all you need. However as the melanoma grows then the chances it will infiltrate surrounding tissues or even spread to the lymph nodes or even beyond the lymph nodes to other organs goes up,” says Dr. Rodriguez, an oncologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Pat underwent a radical resection, which mean going back to the site where the mole was and taking out a wider margin of tissue.

“To make sure that there’s nothing left behind. Now depending on how deep it is you may be done at that point, but most people would recommend getting what’s called a sentinel lymph node, which is the lymph node or the part of the immune system that most likely drains to cells that came from that part of the skin,” says Dr. Rodriguez.

Pat had the sentinel node removed and checked for cancer. The result was negative. In the ten years since, there’s been no recurrence. He considers his doctors lifesavers.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to have them diagnose this at an early stage and take care of it, and now it’s not an issue,” says Pat.

“Melanoma is a bad disease and it’s one that you can really modify the outcomes if you just find it early,” says Dr. Rodriguez.

Recognizing it quickly and treating it properly can prevent a mole from becoming a mountain.