Marlon Morales, 26, and his girlfriend Gabriella Cardona have been dating for the past two years, but it was only recently when Gabriella noticed something about Marlon she just couldn’t ignore: the mole on his face had changed.
“Marlon’s always had the mole, he was born with it, but about six months ago I started to notice it changing” said Cardona, a PhD candidate at Adelphi University.
Morales, who says he likes to err on the side of “nothing’s wrong," says he didn't believe the mole was anything serious.
But Cardona knew it could be serious and dragged her boyfriend to a doctor. The couple later found out Morales had a slow growing form of skin cancer.
Cardona says she was devastated.
“The doctor called and let Marlon know it was basal cell carcinoma … initially I just broke down… I couldn’t believe it was happening again,” she said.
It was a nightmare she had unfortunately lived before when her mother passed away in 2008. She died of the most dangerous type of skin cancer -- melanoma.
Dr. Kavita Mariwalla of Beth Israel Cancer Center says the rate of skin cancer in people under the age of 40 has gotten so high it can be considered an epidemic.
“If you were to measure the rate of lung, breast and colon cancer – put them all together – skin cancer in the United States is still greater than all three of those combine, “ Mariwalla says.
Skin cancer affects 40 to 50 percent of all Americans by the age of 65. Nearly 20 percent of Mariwalla’s practice for skin cancer consists of people of color.
“A lot of times doctors and the public make presumptions that if you’re olive skin or you look like you tan easy your risk of skin cancer is really low and we are learning that that actually not true,” Mariwalla said.
So how can you tell if your mole is potentially dangerous?
Check for the A, B, C, D, E’s of skin cancer:
- A is for asymmetry. Check to see if the mole or mark is changing shape
- B is for borders. Are they shifting?
- C is for color. Check to see if it changes, gets darker or lighter or has multiple colors.
- D is for diameter. Make sure the spot isn't growing.
- E is for evolution. Is your mole evolving in any way?
If you notice any of these issues, contact your doctor immediately. It’s a decision that could save your life.
Cardona says it’s a decision that came all too late for her mother. If she could say something to her mother now, Cardona said it would be, "I’d tell her how much I miss her and how sorry i was that we hadn’t paid more attention.”
There are several things Mariwalla says you can do to protect yourself, like wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and make sure it blocks UVA and UVB rays.
Also, be sure to reapply it every three hours, especially after swimming or sweating.
If you need a little reminder, you can get one a “Play Safe in the Sun” bracelet here. It works by spreading sunscreen over it and when it’s time to reapply, it turns purple.
For the tech-savvy, there is also an iPhone app called “My UV Check.”
The app gives you a daily update on the UVA and UVB index and sends you a daily reminder on when to reapply your sunscreen.