Last winter, 18-year-old Megan Gibbons noticed a strange spot on her cheek. “It looked like a blackhead, but over time it just grew bigger,” she says.
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Six months later, that blackhead had grown to the size of a pea. She had the mole surgically removed, but a thick red scar from cheekbone to jawline remained. She also received a shocking diagnosis: She had Stage 3 melanoma.
Experts are seeing an alarming rise in the number of young women like Meghan who have melanoma. Tanning beds are a big part of the problem, increasing melanoma risk by up to 15 percent.
Brian Gastman, MD, the plastic surgeon who treated Meghan at Cleveland Clinic, says catching melanoma early can be the difference between life and death. He urges parents to take their child to the doctor if a mole or spot looks suspicious.
“Tumors like melanoma can spread in the lymphatic system,” Dr. Gastman says. “If we can get ahead of them — literally like chasing someone down in the street and blocking the road—we potentially can cure them.”
Dr. Gastman removed several of Meghan’s lymph nodes and fixed her scar. Today, Megan is cancer-free. She’s still on immunotherapy to boost her body’s defenses, but her prognosis is good.