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Escaping skin cancer

Veronica Whitney
Dana DelBosco and her son, Jackson
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When her sister died in January of melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, Debby McKimmey says she was shocked by the speed of the disease.

“From a mole, a year later it had metastasized,” says McKimmey, 43, who lives in California. “The quickness of it was so astounding that a lot of people were very surprised when she died.”

McKimmey’s sister was well-known Edwards resident Dana DelBosco, 44. In 2002, DelBosco found a mole on the back of her leg. She underwent surgery and doctors said they had taken all of it out, McKimmey says.

But the biopsy came back positive for melanoma. And last summer, DelBosco started feeling sick again. In September, she started an aggressive treatment at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center, but she died on Jan. 22.

“Our message is protection,” McKimmey says. “All our family is keeping a close eye on moles and other changes on the skin.”

For Pam DelBosco, Dana DelBosco’s stepmother, the family’s goal now is to help others learn how to avoid the killer disease.

“(Dana) wasn’t a sun worshipper either,” she says. “She was in the theater and the arts. So if it can happen to people like that, you wonder how it can affect those who are in the sun.”

Although the American Cancer Society has declared May “Melanoma Awareness Month,” year-round prevention and regular check ups of the skin are key to avoiding the illness and detecting it at an early stage, dermatologists say.

Cancer of the skin – non-melanomas and melanomas combined – is the most common form of the disease, probably accounting for more than 50 percent of all illnesses, according to the American Cancer Society. Although melanoma accounts for about 4 percent of skin cancer cases, it causes about 79 percent of skin cancer deaths.

The number of new melanomas diagnosed in the United States also is increasing, the American Cancer Society reports. About 8,000 people in the United States are expected to die of melanomas this year.

“In the High Country, we’re 40 percent more exposed to ultraviolet light than those people who live at sea level,” says Dr. Gregory Papadeas, a dermatologist and former president of the Colorado Dermatologic Society. “The incidence of melanoma is higher in the High Country, where a lot of people are exposed to the sun without using the adequate amount of sunscreen.”

In Eagle County, the incidence rate of diagnosed skin cancers per 100,000 men in 1995-1996 was 35 compared to 21 in Boulder, 12 in Garfield County and 43 in Gunnison.

“Our practice diagnoses one melanoma a week,” says Papadeas, who treats patients in Summit County and on the Front Range.

Studies have confirmed that sun exposure is responsible for the development of at least two-thirds of all melanomas.

“The more moles a person has, the greater the factor of danger,” says Dr. Stanley Rodier, a dermatologist in Edwards. “If somebody finds out that a pigmented bump or spot has significantly changed in appearance, color or size, he should immediately consult a doctor.”

Because she has so many moles, McKimmey says she goes to the skin doctor every three months to check them.

“The last time I went, I had four moles checked and they came back as displastic – abnormal,” she says. “Left alone, they could have turned into melanoma.

“We’d like to focus on the stage zero and stage one of melanoma, which are treatable,” she adds. “You have to be your own best advocate. That’s true if you have melanoma, liver disease or eczema.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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