During a free health fair at work that offered screenings for skin cancer, Joan Rojek decided on a whim to have a dermatologist examine some odd-looking blemishes on her arm.
That whim may have saved Rojek's life.
"The doctor said the blemishes I was worried about were nothing of concern, but she did identify another growth that I didn't even know I had," said Rojek, a nurse at Loyola University Health System. "She had me in her office the next day for a biopsy. The results came back as a melanoma."
Without warning Rojek found herself among the more than 60,000 Americans who each year develop new melanomas, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, said Dr. Rebecca Tung, director of Division of Dermatology at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill.
"Melanoma can be a devastating disease. However, early detection and treatment can help ensure the disease does not progress to a life-threatening situation," Tung said. "Early melanoma detection is the key for optimal outcome. Regular screenings are imperative tools for early detection."
In conjunction with Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month in May, Tung and other Loyola dermatologists will commemorate Melanoma Monday by offering free skin cancer screenings that will take place from 1-5 p.m. Friday, May 20, at the Loyola Center for Health at Burr Ridge, 6800 N. Frontage Road, Burr Ridge. The screenings may involve a full-body exam or focus on areas of concern.
In 2010, more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer were diagnosed in the United States, according to the most recent estimates from the American Cancer Society. Of those, 68,720 were melanomas, which resulted in 8,650 deaths.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer since it has a strong tendency to metastasize, or spread, to other locations in the body.
"Melanoma risk factors include tanning bed exposure, history of skin cancers and blistering sun burns at a young age," said Tung who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. "Anyone who notices an abnormal patch on their skin or a change in the appearance of a mole should make an appointment with a dermatologist, who is specially trained in the detection and treatment of all types of skin cancers."
When detected in its earliest stages and treated properly, melanomas are highly curable, such as in the case of Rojek, who was successfully treated about a year and a half ago. For an early, thin malignant melanoma that is only on the surface of the skin, the five-year survival rate is 96 percent. About 81 percent of melanomas are diagnosed before they spread.
"Patients who may have unusual moles or lesions anywhere on their body should be checked by a professional. These types of growths have potential to be a melanoma, but can be easily diagnosed." Tung said. "People should take every opportunity to get screened. This way if something of risk is identified, there is a much better chance of a good prognosis."