Teddi Mellencamp is urging people to get regular skin checks after revealing that she recently had a suspected melanoma removed.
“On my way to work which is why I am all glammed up. However, this is a reminder to please go get your yearly skin checks,” she wrote.
She revealed that her former “Housewives” co-star, Kyle Richards, noticed the unusual discoloration on her back and urged her to get it checked.
“I had been avoiding mine bc of my own anxiety for a very long time but when @kylerichards18 saw my back and it had changed colors again, she immediately took me to the doc who within minutes said it looks like melanoma and did a big removal,” Mellencamp wrote.
In the same post, Mellencamp shared photos of the suspected melanoma, which is a type of skin cancer, before the procedure. She also shared a graphic post-surgery picture.
“I am doing my best to stay present and positive as I head to (filming) today,” she wrote. “Grateful that I am busy to keep my mind from racing as I await the results. I find strength in being honest with you all and hope this helps others. Please let this be a reminder to take action on your own skin. Give me a 💕 if you have recently gotten a check or are booking one today.”
Dr. Debra Wattenberg, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of NY Skin RX in New York City, told TODAY Health that based on Mellencamp’s Instagram photos it looks like the reality star had an excisional biopsy for a suspected melanoma.
Wattenberg said Mellencamp’s suspected melanoma appears to meet the “ABCDE” criteria for detecting a melanoma.
What are the ABCDEs of melanoma?
These criteria are, as described by the American Academy of Dermatology:
- A for Asymmetry: A mole or spot is asymmetrical.
- B for Border: It has an irregular border.
- C for Color: It has varying colors, such as shades of brown, red, white or blue.
- D for Diameter: It has a diameter of about 6 mm, or the width of a pencil eraser (although diagnosed melanomas can be smaller).
- E for Evolving: The spot or mole has changed in shape, size or color over time.
“Looking at the mole that she posted, it looks like all of those criteria were being met on visual,” Wattenberg said, noting that Mellencamp’s mole is “irregular” and has “more than one color.” Also, “it’s bigger than the size of a pencil eraser and she claimed that it has been changing.”
How is melanoma treated?
Wattenberg also explained that doctors did not “actually treat the melanoma” on Mellencamp’s shoulder.
“They only did the diagnostic biopsy,” she said. “That scar that she has there is the biopsy, not necessarily the complete removal. (It) depends on what the pathologist sees under the microscope, and the tests that are done on the specimen itself, that will determine what the next steps are for what she may need, once a diagnosis is established.”
Some melanomas are more superficial and spread across the skin, as opposed to reaching deep into the skin. If Mellencamp’s melanoma is more superficial, “she may need a wide excision, but may not need any additional therapy, and the surgery could be curative,” Wattenberg said.
On the other hand, if the melanoma has reached down into the skin, such as into fat layers or the lymph nodes, then Mellencamp may need to have “lymph nodes evaluated and/or additional systemic therapy to eliminate the cells that may have spread.”
How to perform a skin check
Wattenberg echoed Mellencamp’s plea for people to get regular skin checks. She recommends getting a “baseline body check” at least once per year with a dermatologist.
People with higher risk factors — such as having a family history of skin cancer, a history of sun exposure or tanning, or being fair-skinned or fair-haired with lots of moles or freckles — may need body checks two or three times per year.
“The earlier it’s caught, the more likely you are to have a complete cure with a surgical excision,” Wattenberg said.
The fact that Mellencamp’s friend is the one who noticed her suspected melanoma also highlights the fact that self-exams, while key, are not enough when it comes to screening for skin cancer.
“We usually recommend people strip down to their birthday suit and do a full body exam on themselves,” Wattenberg said, “but it’s always best to have a dermatologist do it first so that you can have an idea of things that you’re looking at and be a little bit more educated."
In addition to being examined by a dermatologist, Wattenberg recommended that people use “mirrors or partners or cell phones in any way that you can to look at areas that are harder.”
Most melanomas are caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
For people whose melanomas are detected early, the average five-year survival rate is 99%. However, the average five-year survival rate falls to 68% if the cancer has reached the lymph nodes, and the rate falls to 30% if it has reached “distant organs,” the organization says.