A young Australian mother-of-three received the shock of her life when she was diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 32. She had been under the impression that the disease only affected “older people.”
Kia Bourke discovered a small mole on her torso had changed color in February, growing darker than the freckles around it. She went to her doctor and was told it was cancer.
When her husband noticed it a week later, he alerted the authorities, who advised the young mother to visit their doctor and have it checked out by a medical specialist.
Kia Bourke first noticed a little mole on her torso had changed colour in February, becoming darker than the freckles around it
‘It was a big, big shock for myself and my family. Completely unexpected,’ Kia said on The Morning Show.
‘I just noticed it had gotten a little bit darker and my husband said I think you should go and get it checked. I went to the GP and thankfully he took it seriously, and we tested it, and it was a melanoma.’
The result was extensive surgery to remove the mole and surrounding lymph nodes, with a long stream of stitches now visible on her side.
‘It was a big, big shock for myself and my family. Completely unexpected,’ Kia said on The Morning Show
‘I’m feeling okay. It was a few days of being sore and quite bruised but I’m recovering well,’ she said.
Melanoma is the most common cancer for the 20 to 39 age group to get in Australia, partly because of our outdoor lifestyle and harsh climate.
It happens after the DNA in skin cells is damaged (typically due to harmful UV rays) and then not repaired so it triggers mutations that can form malignant tumours.
Melanoma: The most dangerous form of skin cancer
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It happens after the DNA in skin cells is damaged (typically due to harmful UV rays) and then not repaired so it triggers mutations that can form malignant tumours.
- Sun exposure: UV and UVB rays from the sun and tanning beds are harmful to the skin
- Moles: The more moles you have, the greater the risk for getting melanoma
- Skin type: Fairer skin has a higher risk for getting melanoma
- Hair colour: Red heads are more at risk than others
- Personal history: If you’ve had melanoma once, then you are more likely to get it again
- Family history: If previous relatives have been diagnosed, then that increases your risk
- Removal of the melanoma:
This can be done by removing the entire section of the tumor or by the surgeon removing the skin layer by layer. When a surgeon removes it layer by layer, this helps them figure out exactly where the cancer stops so they don’t have to remove more skin than is necessary.
- Skin grafting:
The patient can decide to use a skin graft if the surgery has left behind discoloration or an indent.
- Immunotherapy, radiation treatment or chemotherapy:
This is needed if the cancer reaches stage III or IV. That means that the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes or other organs in the body.
- Use sunscreen and do not burn
- Avoid tanning outside and in beds
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside
- Keep newborns out of the sun
- Examine your skin every month
- See your physician every year for a skin exam
Source: Skin Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Society
Kia’s advice for those who haven’t had their skin checked before is to book in an appointment and take the first step.
Also know your own body so you can easily decipher any changes as they occur.
‘Be sun smart. It can happen to anybody. And get regular checks,’ Kia warned.
Kia is urging Australians to participate in and donate to the Melanoma Institute Australia’s Melanoma March fundraising campaign, with events happening from this weekend. Individuals can sign up or donate at www.melanomamarch.org.au.
The first five letters of the alphabet are a guide to help you recognise the warning signs of melanoma.
A is for Asymmetry. Most melanomas are asymmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle of the lesion, the two halves don’t match, so it looks different from a round to oval and symmetrical common mole.
B is for Border. Melanoma borders tend to be uneven and may have scalloped or notched edges, while common moles tend to have smoother, more even borders.
C is for Colour. Multiple colours are a warning sign. While benign moles are usually a single shade of brown, a melanoma may have different shades of brown, tan or black. As it grows, the colours red, white or blue may also appear.
D is for Diameter or Dark. While it’s ideal to detect a melanoma when it is small, it’s a warning sign if a lesion is the size of a pencil eraser (about 6 mm, or ¼ inch in diameter) or larger. Some experts say it is also important to look for any lesion, no matter what size, that is darker than others. Rare, amelanotic melanomas are colourless.
E is for Evolving. Any change in size, shape, colour or elevation of a spot on your skin, or any new symptom in it, such as bleeding, itching or crusting, may be a warning sign of melanoma.