A Third Round with Melanoma Opens One Man’s Eyes to Dangers of Direct Sunlight

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Until recently, retired city worker Adelbert “Mac” McIntyre spent most of his life in the sun. Between his day job laying gas pipelines and his free time spent on the San Diego beaches, Mac found both his life’s work and his relaxation in the sunshine.

All that sunlight took a toll on Mac’s body. During a routine physical, Kaiser Permanente doctors found a small spot on his chest that caused some suspicion. “They said it looked rather peculiar,” he remembered. Test results confirmed that suspicion —Mac had melanoma.

Melanoma is the third most common type of skin cancer, and it’s by far the most deadly. If left untreated, it can spread to a person’s lymph nodes and organs. The National Cancer Institute estimates that one in 50 men and women will be diagnosed with melanoma during their lifetimes. More than 9,000 people in the United States will die from the disease this year.

When caught early, melanoma is also highly treatable. According to Hawaii-based Kaiser Permanente dermatologist Amy Reisenauer, MD, the treatability of melanoma in its earliest stages—when it is still just on the skin in the form of a mole or mark—is 98 percent.

Unlike other cancers that often present no symptoms early on, melanoma can be found through a simple self-examination. At its earliest stage, melanoma is usually identifiable by oddly-shaped moles or marks that appear on the body. By doing monthly body checks in a full-length mirror, we can usually spot it ourselves.

To help guide a self-exam, Dr. Reisenauer explained the “ABCDs” of melanoma:

  • A is for Asymmetry. One half of the mole looks different from the other half.
  • B is for Border Irregularity. The borders of a mole are notched or scalloped and not smooth.
  • C is for Color. If there’s more than one color mixed in the mole.
  • D is for Diameter. Anything bigger than six mm, which is the size of a pencil eraser, should be looked at.

Over the course of a year, Mac’s doctors found two melanomas. Luckily for Mac, neither contained cancer that had spread and both were removed easily. But Mac had a common and dangerous reaction to his melanomas being taken care of so easily: he didn’t follow up with his doctors. Before he knew it, three years had gone by without a checkup or self-exam.

Fortunately, a newly created melanoma patient registry flagged Mac’s missed visit. Mac’s Kaiser Permanente care team scheduled another appointment, and just in time. Dr. Reisenauer discovered melanoma on his back early enough to remove it successfully.

“I think during that time I figured they had gotten everything,” Mac said. “But that’s not how melanomas work. Just overnight one can come up.”

Dr. Reisenauer sees people like Mac often. “When you have one skin cancer, you’re at a high risk of having more down the line,” she said. “But sometimes people get busy in their lives and put it on the back burner.”

Thanks to both Kaiser Permanente’s melanoma patient registry and physicians, Mac rid his body of skin cancer a third time. Today, he understands the importance of sun safety and monthly self-exams. “I can’t stress the importance of getting with your doctor and having a body-check,” he said. “And always remember to wear your hat!”

Watch Mac’s story on the Kaiser Permanente Care Stories video blog.