Not all male melanoma patients are age 50 and up: Air Force pilot Taylor Todd, now 26, had a potentially deadly melanoma removed when he was just 25. “One of my flight surgeons noticed a mole on my head. He told me to make an appointment,” recalled Todd, now stationed in Iraq. He obeyed, but then cancelled the appointment. Luckily for Todd, “the flight surgeon made me reschedule!” What the pilot had dismissed as a harmless mole turned out to be a melanoma, and Todd promptly underwent surgery to remove the skin cancer. The scar is still visible.
Todd was lucky: head and neck melanomas can be particularly dangerous because they lie so close to the circulatory and lymphatic systems, which can easily carry melanoma cells to the brain and all over the body. According to a study at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, among 51,704 non-Hispanic white adults with melanoma, patients with melanomas of the head and neck were almost twice as likely to die from the disease as patients with melanomas in other body sites.
Like many young men, Todd had never been careful about sun protection: “I didn’t always listen to my mom about putting on my sunscreen! And usually when I didn’t wear sunscreen, I would burn.” Since his diagnosis and treatment, Todd has changed his ways, and outdoors he wears sunscreen “all the time,” along with his long-sleeved flight suit and a broad-brimmed hat that protects his skin from the harsh desert sun.
“If you do find something that looks abnormal or one of your moles doesn’t look right, go to your doctor,” Todd urged. “If your doctor tells you to take it seriously, take it seriously! I almost blew it off and I could have lost everything … just because I didn’t put in that little extra time to do what the doctor told me to do.” In addition to examining your own skin head-to-toe once a month and going in for a full-body skin exam once a year (more frequently if you’ve had skin cancer), “Make sure to take the 30 seconds to a minute it requires to put on sunscreen and a [broad-brimmed] hat before you head outside,” Todd said. “Do everything that you can to help prevent skin cancer.”