TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Skin cancer is by far the most common and deadliest of all cancers. Experts say one person dies of melanoma every hour and that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70.
Research teams at the University of Arizona Skin Cancer Institute are looking at new innovations and treatments to help patients and doctors in the fight against skin cancer.
Head and neck surgeon Dr. Audrey Baker leads the cutaneous oncology program and the UArizona Skin Cancer Institute, she specializes in removing melanoma, and other cancers.
"Depending on how large the defect is there’s a variety of techniques we use. For larger reconstructions we can use other parts of the body. If I need to do a total nasal reconstruction sometimes, I use part of the arm. Sometimes I use part of the skull and sometime the inside part of the nose the septum,” Baker said.
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When patients like Candice Mason go to see Dr. Baker it’s time for surgery. The wife and mother of three was diagnosed with melanoma in 2017. It all started with a small freckle and ended with dr. Baker removing 4 lymph nodes from her facial area.
"I found a picture from 2005 when it was really tiny then it grew to the size of a pencil head eraser,” Mason said.
Unfortunately, the cancer didn’t stop there, Candice had a car wreck in 2019 and got another dose of bad news. The cancer was back and this time it was Stage 4.
“They found a lesion on my lung, then I had pet and CT scans and an MRI for the first time which I think should be off the bat for any melanoma patient that’s when we found 3 tumors on my brain,” Mason said.
RELATED: Minding Melanoma: Taking a deep dive into the disease
After numerous surgeries and the aftereffects, Candice started immunotherapy and other treatments.
The whole experience led her to start a u-v clothing company called “Desert Camo Apparel. She’s also raising awareness in the community with local events.
"At the end of the day this does not discriminate it doesn’t care it can affect anybody,” Mason said.
Doctors say melanoma can pop up anywhere on the inside or outside of your body, but there are some common areas to keep an eye on.
"The areas that get sent to me the most often are the cheek and the nose. That being said, I think the most common thing that I see in my practice are skin cancers on the top of the head.
As for patients with darker complexions, there are some common skin issues that can become more serious over time.
"I have a number of patients of color in my practice who were originally diagnosed with a keloid and were followed for many months and the keloid grew and grew and the keloid until it was biopsied and found to be a skin cancer,” Baker said.
Candice says doctors are keeping a close eye on her scans and she's hoping that sharing her story will encourage others to take precautions.
Link to Desert Camo Apparel and cancer awareness events by the Candice Mason: