Understanding Melanoma And How To Protect Your Skin
- Witney Carson McAllister, 28, is a melanoma survivor. Now, she’s using her platform as a professional dancer to raise awareness for melanoma and skin cancer protection.
- Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color. Ninety percent of melanomas are caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun, so it’s important to protect your skin with things like sunscreen and clothing.
- Paying attention to moles or growths on your skin is an easy way to look out for melanoma since changes to a mole you’ve had for a while or developing a new growth you don’t remembering having on your skin could be signs of of this cancer, according to SurvivorNet’s experts.
In a recent Instagram post, the mother of one married to her high school sweetheart, Carson McAllister, opened up about surviving melanoma.
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“In honor of Melanoma Monday and National Skin Cancer Awareness month, I’m partnering with @eltamdskincare to help spread awareness,” she wrote in her caption. “When I was 19 years old, I was diagnosed with Melanoma and it turned my life upside down. Prior to my diagnosis, I never knew how serious this disease was or that people of all ages could develop it.”
She then went on to explain how she protects herself from skin cancer.
“Nine years later, I am so grateful to share that I am still cancer free,” she wrote. “The scar on my foot serves as a reminder that when it comes to skin cancer, prevention and early detection are key.
“Let this be your reminder to schedule your annual Dermatologist exam, perform self-checks at home and start wearing sunscreen daily from head to toe! When it comes to sun protection and sun safety, I’m in it for life.”
Witney Carson McAllister’s Melanoma Battle
It was 2014 when McAlister received the call from a Dancing with the Stars producer asking the young dancer to be a professional partner on the show. She had served as a troupe member the previous two seasons, and the promotion was a dream come true.
But there was a serious complication to consider. Just a few weeks prior, McAllister had a mole removed from her foot that contained melanoma, a disease that had also plagued her parents. At this point, the former tanning salon user was still waiting to see if the disease had spread anywhere else in her body and if she’d need treatment.
“Despite my parents’ brushes with skin cancer, I’d never thought it would happen to me,” she told the Skin Cancer Foundation.
McAllister underwent surgery to remove an inch of tissue around the mole as well as two lymph nodes from her hip in February 2014 – a few weeks before rehearsals for her new gig were supposed to start. Thankfully, her lymph nodes didn’t show any signs that the cancer had spread, and her disease was caught at stage IA.
Still, recovery was “the most devastating, depressing three weeks of [her] entire life.” She had to keep her foot elevated and immobile for 20 hours a day.
“When you’re a dancer, your body means everything,” she said. “I felt like mine had betrayed me.”
Sadly, her healing did not progress as fast as she had hoped and she wasn’t ready to dance when rehearsals began. She tried her best – against her doctor’s advice – and actually ended up ripping her stitches completely open. Another doctor in Los Angeles advised her to quit for fear of infection, but McAllister was determined to chase her dreams and she did exactly that. Looking back, the dancer who’s now become a household name is proud of what she’s overcome and wears the scar on her foot like a badge of honor.
“What I went through helped me become a better dancer and a better person,” she says. “I’m proud of this scar now. It was a catalyst for everything that came afterwards.”
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 99,780 new melanomas will be diagnosed in the United States in 2022. And while the ACS says the risk of melanoma increases as people age with the average age of diagnosis being 65, the disease is not uncommon among those younger than 30 – like in Witney Carson McAllister’s case. In fact, it’s one of the most common cancers in young adults (especially young women).
The disease can develop from an existing mole or appear as a dark or pink growth on the skin even in places on the body that never see the sun. It’s also known to be the deadliest form of skin cancer.
“Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body,” explains Dr. Anna Pavlick, a medical oncologist with Weill Cornell Medicine who specializes in treating skin cancer.
Paying Attention to Your Skin
Keeping an eye on the moles or growths on your skin is an easy way to keep an eye out for melanoma. Changes to a mole you’ve had for a while or developing a new growth you don’t remembering having on your skin could be signs of this cancer, according to SurvivorNet’s experts.
Dr. Cecilia Larocca of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute gives SurvivorNet an overview of things to look out for with moles using the ABCDE self-screening method:
- Asymmetrical moles: “If you drew a line straight down the center of the mole, would the sides match?”
- Borders that are “irregular, jagged, not smooth.” It can also stand for bleeding.
- Colors: “Multiple distinct colors in the mole.”
- Diameter: “Larger than 6mm, about the size of a pencil head eraser.”
- Evolution: “This may be the most important,” she says. “Anything that is changing over time such as gaining color, losing color, painful, itching, hurting, changing shape, etc.”
Spots on our skin are often harmless, but it’s still important to keep an eye on them and reach out to your doctor if you see any changes or find a growth anywhere on your skin that looks suspicious.
Protecting Yourself from Melanoma
Ninety percent of melanomas are caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This means excessive time in the sun – even as a child – puts you at a higher risk.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Dendy Engelman from MDCS Dermatology in New York shared the top five things you can do to avoid skin cancer:
- Avoid sun during peak hours, which is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the tops of our heads, the tops of our ears and the delicate area around the eye.
- Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and make sure to reapply every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming.
- Have yearly skin checks (with a professional), because it’s difficult to evaluate areas all over the body.
- Avoid tanning beds. There are no “good” tanning beds, and they can significantly increase your risk of melanoma.