Tan for the Prom at 16, Skin Cancer by 26

Girls tanning at the beachRachel loved sunbathing – until she found an odd-looking mole on her toe. It turned out to be a malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer.

“From the age of 16 to 26, I always went on holidays with the intention of getting a glorious tan,” Rachel says. “I always slapped on the factor 25 sunscreen for the first couple of days. But by the second week, I’d cover myself in oil because I wanted my skin to get really brown.

“In 2000, I discovered this funny mole between my toes. I’ve always had moles on my body, but none had ever caused me any problems. My doctor told me to keep an eye on it.

“The next summer, when I started wearing my flip-flops, the mole looked a funny colour. My doctor sent me straight to a specialist. Within minutes I was taken to the operating theatre, and the mole was whipped off.

“Back home, I rested my foot but I wasn’t worried. I thought, ‘I’m 26 years old; how bad can it be?’

“Ten days later, I got the phone call that would change my life. The mole was a malignant melanoma. The specialist was concerned that if the tumour was more than a millimetre deep, it could have spread to other areas of my body.

“I went back to hospital. They cut out a larger area of my toe, then they checked to see whether the skin cancer had spread to my lymph nodes (the glands that drain away toxins from the body). Two in my groin and two in my thigh had to be removed.

“I had to wait two weeks to find out if I was in the clear. Thankfully, they’d managed to take out all the malignant cells and I didn’t need chemotherapy. I was monitored for any recurrence.

“I’ve been incredibly lucky. If my cancer hadn’t been caught early, it could have spread to organs such as my liver and brain, and I may not be here today.

“I now look at the photos of me with my tan and think how silly I was. I have to be incredibly careful if I go out in the sun now. I always cover up with long trousers and long-sleeved shirts and a hat.

“When I want a tan now, I use fake tan. My advice to anyone is to stay out of the sun: just cheat and keep safe and healthy.”

Mole alert

Any changes to the size or consistency of skin moles should be considered suspect. Read more about the signs and symptoms of skin cancer. If you have any concerns, see your GP.

Photo credit: Alex Proimos; CC license

About the Author

NHS Choices (www.nhs.uk) is the UK’s biggest health website. It provides a comprehensive health information service to help put you in control of your healthcare.


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