Invasive melanoma in people is increasing around the world and delayed detection has a significant impact on your health. My heart sank in my chest when I realized that I have not written a single melanoma awareness post in over a year. I am disappointed in myself for not sharing skin cancer awareness posts more often. Early detection is so very important and I have tried really hard to reach people and to spread the word.
I was diagnosed with melanoma just about four years ago. Since I became cancer-free I have made it my mission to share my experience here on this blog with the world.
Melanoma awareness posts are important to me. As a cancer survivor, I feel the need to share my experience with the world. I feel like if I do, it could possibly save someone else’s life. If I can save just one person from having to go through what I have gone through and what so many others are going through would make it all worthwhile. It gives my life purpose.
I know that my skin cancer awareness posts are making a difference. Along with the blog posts here, in 2017 I joined forces with The Mighty! The Mighty is a large digital health community for people with disease, mental illness, and disabilities. As a contributor to The Mighty, I can share my cancer story with others to help raise awareness about skin cancer.
I have had so many people reach out to me about the posts I have written. Some scare the hell out of me because they tell me about a loved one who thought they had beat cancer only to have it come back. Most people thank me for pushing them to get a skin check. Some people relate to what I have gone through. They thank me for sharing my story because they have been diagnosed with melanoma. They tell me that they find comfort and most importantly they find hope.
Today, with my doctor’s permission, I want to talk to you about my most recent dermatologist appointment and tell you about a new technology that will aid in the early detection of skin cancer.
Since my last post…
In my last post in May of 2018. I was really bummed out. I went all of 2017 without a single skin biopsy and I felt good about my skin. The darkness fear brings had lifted. However, the doctor’s scalpel popped my bubble of hope like a balloon. During that visit, I had another biopsy. Having another biopsy knocked me back into the reality that being cancer-free doesn’t mean it won’t come back.
Thank God, the biopsy came back atypical without any further excision. Since that biopsy a year ago this past May I have had clear skin checks. In fact, I have gone from seeing two dermatologists every 3 months to seeing one dermatologist at the cancer center every six-months, with oncology appointments once a year. Yet early detection is still crucial to my health.
Introducing the VECTRA® WB360
My six-month appointment in August was an exciting one. I got my third consecutive clear skin check and I got to visit my dermatologist at his new office in the Inova Schar Cancer Institute. Most importantly my doctor invited me to try out a new technology that will change my routine skin checks forever!
The new cancer center has a brand new 360° whole-body 3D imaging system called the VECTRA® WB360. This is a mole and lesion mapping machine developed by a company called Canfield Scientific. According to Canfield Scientific, there are only four machines exist in the United States.
VECTRA® WB360 was designed specifically for dermatology. This machine has 92 cameras that can take a macro quality resolution 3D image of nearly the entire skin surface of a patient’s body.
My doctor has been after me for a long time to have medical photography done, but I have resisted. I am so glad I did. This new technology is far more superior to 2D medical photography. I could not turn down the invitation to have this Vectra scan. This full-body imaging technology will have a huge impact on my future skin checks and aid in the early detection of melanoma. I made a follow-up appointment for the scan.
When I arrived the technician took me to an exam room where I undressed and put on a robe. I then went with her into a room where the VECTRA® WB360 was. I disrobed and I stood in between two large camera-bearing arches on top of a white mat on the floor. The white mat had two footprints on it to help guide you where to stand. The technician had me hold my arms out away from my side. She then left me alone between the two arches and went over to a computer where she could tell the machine to capture the images. Being naked was awkward, but I didn’t have to be for long.
For the scan, there were two captures. The first was a bright flash like a regular camera flash, only it was hot and came from 92 cameras at once. Before the second capture, the technician had me close my eyes because the flash stayed on a little longer and she didn’t want it to affect my vision too much. The second flash stayed on a little longer and was a little more intense than the first, but only lasted a few seconds.
Within 5-minutes the computer compiled the images into a single three-dimensional picture. The machine has integrated software that allows my doctor to map and monitor any pigmented lesions on my skin. Every single blemish on my skin can be zoomed in on and assessed. Measurements can be taken right down to the millimeter. It’s truly amazing!
Why 3D Whole-Body Imaging Is Important
The four traits you should look for when trying to identify potentially cancerous lesions and moles on the skin are: asymmetry, ragged borders, color, diameter, or something that is evolving. These are also known as the ABCDE’s of Melanoma.
With melanoma, early detection is the key to survival. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Survival from melanoma is strongly correlated with tumor thickness at diagnosis. Thin melanomas (<0.8 mm) have a 10-year survival approaching 98%, in comparison to melanomas >4 mm, which at best have approximately 75% survival at 10 years.”
The melanoma removed from my leg was 1.2 millimeters thick. (To give you a size comparison, a dime is 1 millimeter thick. So the melanoma removed from my leg was a little thicker than a dime.) The melanoma potentially had grown deeper than the top layer of skin. That meant that at that point I was in the Melanoma Stage 1 Category.
Not only did I have melanoma once, but my doctor also caught it again about 8 months after my first diagnosis. Less than 3% of those who have melanoma once get it again. However, the second lesion on my shoulder more than likely existed at the same time as the first and was not a recurrence due to the first melanoma.
The VECTRA® WB360 is a beneficial screening tool that is only used for patients like me that are high-risk with a personal and/or family history of skin cancers. Having this 3D map of my skin is a very big deal when it comes to skin checks. My doctor can monitor lesions more closely, by taking measurements and writing notes that can be stored in my record for future skin checks.
This technology will help improve my doctor’s diagnostic accuracy when determining if a lesion needs to be biopsied. This will not only save me the agony of having skin biopsies, but it will, in turn, save time and money from needless testing.
I cannot tell you have incredibly grateful I am to have such a great medical team monitoring me and keeping me cancer-free. I’m excited to see what other new technology becomes available to help fight the fight! Melanoma early detection just got a little better.
I now have one question for YOU…
Have you called a dermatologist to schedule your skin check?
I cannot stress enough to you how very important skin checks are to your health. Before you come up with an excuse not to call and schedule an appointment, I didn’t think I would get Melanoma either, but I did.
My story has turned out well. So many others aren’t so lucky.
Get a skin check! Early detection is crucial and it could save your life!
Please protect yourself and the ones you love. There is no safe tan and no it isn’t “just a sunburn”.
Here is a Prevention Guideline Handout from SkinCancer.org
Read it. Learn from it. PREVENT IT!
Thanks for reading this and thank you for your support.
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