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Woman hopes to bring light to dangers of melanoma

A melanoma that was misdiagnosed as a benign lesion by three out of four smart phone apps tested in study is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Pittsburgh Department of Dermatology

As the weather gets warmer across the GTA, one 65-year-old woman is hoping her experience will bring awareness to the dangers of the sun’s rays.

Jann White has gone under the knife three times to remove the potentially deadly form of skin cancer called melanoma.

The former flight attendant spent most of her life travelling the world, soaking up the sun without any thought to the potential dangers.

“I spent winters in Florida, winters in Barbados under umbrellas on the beach but you get the reflection off the sand,” she explained.

White says the years of exposure left dimples, dents and deep scars on her arm and leg.

“I don’t think people take skin cancer as seriously as other cancers,” she said. “I know I didn’t.”

She said she first noticed a dark spot on her arm but just assumed it was a pimple. She became concerned when she noticed that the spot had not gone away after about a year.

“You have a lump in breast immediately checked out – dark spot or red spot on skin, I don’t think we pay attention to that and we should be,” said White.

Thanks to early detection, her prognoses is looking good but that isn’t always the case for many.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, 6,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma this year and over a thousand will die from it. The organization says about 1 in 63 Canadian men and 1 in 79 Canadian women is expected to develop melanoma during their lifetime.

Some symptoms of melanoma include a small spot on the skin that changes in size, shape, colour or height, a mole or a spot that is asymmetric and a spot that doesn’t heal.

Those who are at higher than average risk of developing melanoma, such as those with a family history of skin cancer or a CDKN2A gene mutation, may need to be examined more often than people with average risk. Skin exams should be part of a yearly physical.

Doctors say an important step to avoid this dangerous form of cancer is using sunscreen.

“We used to say most sun damaged happened before the age of 18 – we now know cumulative affect,” explained Dr. Asif Pirani. “Excess sun in your 30’s still has affect on you.”

It takes at least two tablespoons of SPF 30 to effectively protect exposed skin. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours, or with more frequency if you are in the water or sweating.

Click here for more information on melanoma.