Melanoma survivor: This kind of cancer is preventable

Katherine Ranzenberger

Christine Layman knew cancer didn't run in her family, so when her doctor told her in November 2010 the mole that was removed and biopsied was melanoma, she was devastated.

Christine Layman, a Manchester woman, is a Stage 3 melanoma survivor.

While melanoma makes up less than 1 percent of all skin cancers diagnosed, it is the most invasive and the most deadly, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The Manchester woman had had many moles removed before, but this one changed her life entirely.

"They said if I lived for two more years, that'd be incredible," she said. "To even hear the word cancer, it was devastating. I had to leave work because I was too upset."

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and Layman said she wants to make sure people know this kind of cancer is preventable.

Treatment: Layman went through surgery at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center to remove the cancer, which doctors determined had already reached stage 3. The doctors also removed 24 lymph nodes from under Layman's right arm because the cancer had spread toward her breast.

"It left my arm numb from the elbow up," she said. "I had lymphedema and had a drain tube sticking out. The tube was in there for so long that it got infected."

Lymphedema is swelling of an arm or leg which results from a lymphatic system block, according to the Mayo Clinic. This is common in cancer treatments.

A drainage tube sticks out of Christine Layman's back after getting lymph nodes removed from under her right arm. She survived Stage 3 melanoma after being diagnosed in 2010.

After six months of interferon and steroid treatments, Layman was declared cancer-free. It has been five years of sunscreen, clothing coverage and avoiding the sun for Layman, but it's also been five years without recurrence.

Melanoma: More than 76,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Melanoma is the most common cancer for those between 25 and 29 years old and the second most common for those aged 15 through 29, according to the National Cancer Institute.

One in five Americans will develop some sort of skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer and is rarely fatal. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer.

Nearly 90 percent of both melanomas and nonmelanomas are caused by the sun or some sort of ultraviolet radiation exposure. This can include tanning beds, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer has on its Group 1 cancer-causing list. Other things in Group 1 include plutonium and cigarettes.

Preventable: Skin cancer is preventable, though. Daily use and frequent reapplication of a broad-spectrum sunscreen is one key to avoid the potential of skin cancer. Five sunburns double the chance of developing the disease, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Ultraviolet rays are highest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Seeking shade during those hours can help prevent getting burned.

Yearly skin exams can also help with the prevention of skin cancers. If there are any changes in moles or you are concerned about something on your skin, contact your doctor right away.

"If I could go back, I would have had my skin checked," Layman said. "I should have fought more to get into the doctor's office. Melanoma isn't just skin cancer. It's deadly."

If caught early, there is a 98 percent five-year survival rate for melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society. The rate falls to 63 percent when the cancer reaches the lymph nodes. If it reaches a distant organ, the survival rate falls to 17 percent.

For information on how to detect skin cancer on your own and when to go to the doctor, visit

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at or on Twitter at @YDKatherine.