Skin cancer exposed: The myths around it and the plea to get screenings

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Most people hear about cancer, but never think about it impacting them until it actually does.

For many, skin cancer is something they think only impacts those who are older and have had more sun exposure. But the truth is the cancer can strike anyone, at any time.

Some doctors in the East recall teens as young as 15-years-old being diagnosed with melanoma.

Skin cancer is by far the most diagnosed form of cancer in the United States. It’s estimated that one in five people will develop it sometime in their lifetime.

WNCT’s Josh Birch has shared his story about his bout with skin cancer on his eyelid over the years. He was diagnosed right after his 23rd birthday. Over the coming months and years, he would have his right lower eyelid removed and rebuilt during four surgeries.

But during a routine trip to the dermatologist for a skin screening over the summer, doctors found what they thought were pre-cancerous cells on Birch’s face. To remove them, Doctor Drury Armistead of Physicians East Dermatology decided to use a treatment known as blue light therapy, or photo-dynamic therapy.

Essentially, doctors paint a patient with an acidic medication mixture and then have them sit in front of a blue light.

“Any cell that has the medication inside the cell and interacts with the light, go boom, like popcorn,” Armistead said.

After treatment, Birch’s face burnt, blistered and peeled where the pre-cancerous cells were forming on his face.

But he is far from being alone.

More and more people are being diagnosed with skin cancer at a younger age.

“It felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me,” said Jennifer Bergh, who was diagnosed with skin cancer on her face at 26-years-old.

“They cut down the side of my face until about the end of my nose, and then cut from one corner of my eye to the other,” she said.

Bergh said looking back at her childhood, she would have been more vigilant in putting on sunscreen.

But for others, like 31-year-old Brad Coleman, sunscreen is always on his mind. Despite that, he’s already had 7 or 8 skin cancers removed from his body.

“You feel yourself sinking in your seat a little bit, especially at the age I was,” Coleman said.

Dr. Armistead said diagnosing skin cancer in young patients, especially in the East, is far too common.

“I think more people are aware of it, but sadly, not a lot of people are doing more to prevent it,” he said.

Basil cell and Squamous cell skin cancers are so common that it is nearly impossible to track. But melanoma skin cancers are a different story.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the rates of melanoma have skyrocketed over the years, increasing from 7.9 cases per 100,000 people in 1975, to 25.2 cases in 2014.

Melanoma is also on the rise in young people. For those patients ages 20-49, the rate of melanoma increased from 8.22 cases per 1975, to 14.02 in 2014.

It goes to show that it is never too early to get checked for skin cancer. The best case scenario is they just tell you there’s nothing to worry about.

To see the interactive statistics on cancer, click here.

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