Did You Know Famed Actress Cybill Shepherd, 71, Battled An Aggressive Form of Skin Cancer?

Published Jan 10, 2022

Shelby Black

Cybill Shepherd's Melanoma Battle

  • In 2001, actress Cybill Shepherd, 71, was diagnosed with melanoma after discovering a mole on the back of her neck. She had the growth removed and has been in remission since.
  • Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, affecting 100,350 adults annually.
  • A helpful way to detect signs of melanoma is by checking your skin, particularly following the ABCDE system.

Legendary actress Cybill Shepherd, 71, may be best known for her iconic roles in The Last Picture Show, Taxi Driver and Alice, but her personal life has always been a bit more out of the public eye than other celebrities. Known for her stunning beauty, it may be surprising for people to know that Shepherd actually battled an aggressive form of skin cancer.

With her fair skin, blonde hair, and striking blue eyes, Shepherd’s beauty became known across movie screens all over the country. However, in 2001 she was diagnosed with melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, when doctors discovered a growth on her back. She kept her diagnosis out of the public for the duration of her treatment, but eventually spoke about the experience in 2004 after she had been in remission for three years.

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It changes your life totally,” she said. “I had a rare form of skin cancer called dermatofibrosarcoma protuberan,” Shepherd told The Irish Examiner in 2004. “I was born with it on the back of my neck. I’ll be cancer free in January for three years.”

After going through successful treatment, Shepherd’s team shared that she has checkups every few months in order to make sure there were no signs of recurrence. Thankfully, each scan came back clear.

Melanoma: A Breakdown

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, affecting 100,350 adults annually. The disease starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair, and eyes their color. Only, in melanoma, the cells change in a way that makes them able to spread to other organs. A majority of times, the cancer is caused by dangerous, extensive amounts of sun damage to the skin, and can develop from an existing mole or appear as a pink growth on the skin. The disease can be caused by both outright exposure to the sun, and also tanning bed use.

You’re most likely to find melanoma on sun-exposed areas of skin, like your face, neck, arms, and legs. Surprisingly, you might also find them in places that have never been exposed to the sun such as the palms of your hand/soles of your feet, on your eyes or mouth, and even under your nails. To avoid a late-stage diagnosis it’s important to check your skin regularly.

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“Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer, because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body, either through the lymphatics or the bloodstream,” Dr. Anna Pavlick, a medical oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet. “Most of the time, 90% of all melanomas are sun exposed…There is a very small subset, less than 10% of patients, who have a genetic or a familial link between pancreas cancer and melanoma.”

Dr. Anna Pavlick explains explains the basics of melanoma

Spotting Signs of Melanoma

A preventative measure you can take to catch skin cancer early, or to catch it before it spreads to other parts of the body, is to regularly check your skin. It’s recommended that you check your skin at least once a month to make sure everything checks out, and visit your physician if you believe something might be suspicious. When checking your skin, there’s a helpful guide to follow, and it’s called the ABCDE system.

Related: Does Benzene in Sunscreen Cause Cancer? What You Need To Know About Protecting Your Skin In The Sweltering Heat

  • Asymmetrical moles — make sure the moles are equal on both sides
  • Borders — examine whether the edges of the moles are jagged, irregular, or not smooth
  • Colors — check if the there are different colors in the mole
  • Diameter  — Measure the mole to see if it’s larger than 6 millimeters
  • Evolution — The most important step in the process. Routinely check to see if the mole change over time, whether it’s in color, size, shape, or it’s itchy and painful.

Dr. Cecilia Larocca shares tips on checking your skin for cancer

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