Disease of the week

Melanoma Monday.
What's next? Sickle-cell Saturday?
Actually, the American Cancer Society has christened April 26 Melanoma Monday for two perfectly good reasons: one, popular awareness of this killer is slim, and two, on the following weekend there are free screenings for suspect skin spots in six area locations--no appointment necessary.

Just last week my mom, my brother, and I were sitting around the TV at my parents' house, when my mom (in her characteristically cheery way) pointed at my tan brother's schnoz and said: "What's that thing on your nose?" He groped at his face and retorted, quite defensively, "What thing?" and went running for the mirror.

Turns out he has a new freckly-mole thing growing there, small and ruddy. Given his history of beach vacations, rooftop sunbathing, and his insistence that he keep his year-round glow with tanning-salon sessions, he's a prime candidate for one of the million cases of squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers diagnosed each year in the United States. Nearly 50,000 of these will be melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

Not to mention the fact that my brother is naturally fair skinned with light eyes. His pallor puts him at a higher risk than our golden-olive-brown skinned counterparts (though everyone's at risk). He has freckles all over, just barely showing through his even, George Hamilton brown. That he hasn't set foot in a dermatologist's office once in his 32 years makes all of us nervous.

Nor has he followed the simple ABCD rule of checking spots for their melanoma quotient: A is for asymmetry, B is for border irregularity, C is for color--pigmentation that isn't uniform--and D is for diameter--anything bigger than a pencil eraser is suspect.

So on Melanoma Monday, take a good, hard look at yourself, scalp to toes. And if you're a bit unnerved by anything you find, visit one of these six locations on May 1 between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m: Baylor Medical Center in both Garland and Irving; Baylor-Sammons Cancer Center in Dallas on Gaston (for each of these call 1-800-4-Baylor for details); Arlington Memorial Hospital (817-548-6500); Medical Center of Plano (972-519-1437); or Charlton Methodist Hospital in Dallas (214-947-7777).

--Christina Rees

Free skin screenings follow Melanoma Monday, on Saturday, May 1, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the above-listed locations. No appointment necessary. For more info on skin cancer, call the American Cancer Society at (214) 819-1200 or (817) 737-9990.