21-year-old woman warns others about the dangers of tanning after she survived skin cancer

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

CANTON, Mich. (WXYZ) - May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month.  According to the American Cancer Society, in Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor, more than 1,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma this year alone.  A young woman from Ann Arbor became that scary statistic. 

She shares the same name as a movie star, but this Julia Roberts thought she had to have tanned skin to be a pretty woman.

"I just didn't want to be the palest at everything," said Julia Roberts.  To achieve the golden brown look the 21-year-old Ann Arbor woman started regular visits to the tanning salon back in high school. 

"All your friends are doing it.  It makes you look prettier.  The guys like it.  There are so many reasons," she said.

According to the American Cancer Society, the most common cause of skin cancer is from exposure to ultraviolet radiation.  Such as UV rays from the sun or a tanning bed.

"They say tanning can cause skin cancer and for me it actually did," said Roberts.  About a year and a half ago she found a cancerous mole on her back. 

"It didn't really scare me at first," she said.  That's because when she was 10-years-old her mother had a topical form of skin cancer that doctors treated and removed.  "She had it.  She's fine.  It didn't really set in how deadly it actually was."  Doctors diagnosed Roberts with stage III melanoma, the most serious and deadly form of skin cancer.

Dr. Ann LaFond, a dermatologist in Canton affiliated with St. Joseph Mercy Health System, said hearing they have melanoma is some of the worst news a patient with skin cancer can hear.

"It's fatal because it goes to other organs.  It goes to your lungs, your brain, your liver, and that's what people die from," said Dr. LaFond.

The key to survival is early detection.  Dr. LaFond said prevention includes avoiding tanning beds and wearing sunscreen outdoors.  She said too many women forget to put sunscreen on their necks and their chest, which is vitally important because so many women nowadays are wearing scoop necks and melanoma is popping up more and more in that area of the body.

"If you catch it very early it's a 95 percent survival rate at 5 years.  But if it's already gone to other lymph nodes and organs, it's a 16 percent survival rate," said LaFond.

Even though Roberts caught it early through a self examination, the cancer had already spread to the lymph nodes on her side and under her left arm.

"I just wanted it all to be over with.  If there was any cancer in my body I wanted them to get it out as soon as they could," said Roberts.

Surgeons removed the mole and a large section of skin on her upper left shoulder.  They also cut out the affected lymph nodes.  She lost feeling in the back of her left arm but gained the relief of being cancer free.

"I have to go every 3 months to get a skin check because they do want to monitor me as closely as they can," she said.

She hopes teens and other women and men will learn from her mistake, protect their skin, and find their pale complexion pretty.

"Hopefully, the fad of being brown when you're not goes away," said Roberts.

Dr. LaFond said that to monitor any moles you have, to follow the ABC's of self-examination.

"You look for asymmetry.  That's "A".  It means irregular," said Dr. LaFond.  "The border is for "B".  Is the border irregular?  "C" is color.  Is the color irregular?  Is it more than one color two or three colors or growing?  "D" is the diameter.  We have kind of a guideline of six millimeter pencil eraser size.  If it's bigger than that you should at least have it checked.  And the new one is "E" for Evolving.  That means is it changing," said Dr. LaFond.

Dr. LaFond recommends people use a sunscreen on their face with a minimum SPF of 30 that protects against UVA and UVB rays.

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