In this week’s breaking news, we learned that the very popular Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.  She had several moles biopsied and is now being treated.

When caught early, melanoma is highly treatable with a simple excision of the cancer and surrounding skin.  But when left untreated, melanoma can spread to other organs and require more serious treatment like chemotherapy.  Late-stage melanoma is deadly.

We can learn many lessons from this royal scare – mainly that we are all the same, whether a celebrity or just a working Joe.  Let’s look at some of the facts of Fergie’s journey and try to learn from her experience.

Her Dual Cancer Challenge. The Duchess is going through treatment for two unrelated cancers at once.  Melanoma can spread to other organs but only very rarely shows up as breast cancer.

But here is a surprising fact.  Some research has shown that breast cancer survivors have a significantly increased risk of developing melanoma later in life, most often when they are diagnosed and treated before age 50.      Several studies support this finding, including one that shows an increased risk of up to 46%.

The Importance of Regular Check-Ups. We highly recommend yearly head-to-toe skin cancer checks at Midwest Dermatology.

Skin cancers can be easy to spot.  Many have obvious warning signs, and we appreciate our patients teaming up with us by doing regular self-exams at home.  But physicians, especially doctors who have trained for years in the specialty of dermatology like our double and triple board-certified physicians at Midwest Dermatology, can spot even the most minor changes, and can get quick answers with a simple office procedures like a shave biopsy, which gently removes the raised part of the skin for diagnosis within days.

Luckily Fergie had a physician with a good eye who moved quickly to get answers regarding her diagnosis and treatment.

Even a Duchess Needs To Know The Warning Signs . You should get to know these warning signs too:

Most moles, brown spots and growths on the skin are harmless – but not always. The ABCDEs of Melanoma offer a simple way for you to check your own skin for suspicious growths that require a visit to Midwest Dermatology:  

 A is for Asymmetry. Most melanomas are asymmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle of the lesion, the two halves don’t match, so it looks different from a round to oval and symmetrical common mole.

B is for Border. Melanoma borders tend to be uneven and may have scalloped or notched edges. Common moles tend to have smoother, more even borders.

C is for Color. Multiple colors are a warning sign. While benign moles are usually a single shade of brown, a melanoma may have different shades of brown, tan or black. As it grows, the colors red, white or blue may also appear.

D is for Diameter or Dark. While it’s ideal to detect a melanoma when it is small, it’s a warning sign if a lesion is the size of a pencil eraser (about 6 mm, or ¼ inch in diameter) or larger. Some experts say it is important to look for any lesion, no matter what size, that is darker than others. Rare, amelanotic melanomas are colorless.

E is for Evolving. Any change in size, shape, color or elevation of a spot on your skin, or any new symptom in it, such as bleeding, itching or crusting, may be a warning sign of melanoma.

Melanoma’s bias. Melanoma occurs more frequently in people with fair skin, light eyes and light or red hair.  Our beloved Duchess has gorgeous red hair and classic pale skin, common in the region.  So we are putting all you redheads on high alert!  Pay attention to self-exams, warning signs, and protective measures described below!

Here are some more risk factors that put people at a higher risk:

  • Unprotected or excessive exposure to ultraviolet light: from the sun or indoor tanning.  Both sun tans and sunburns are signs of serious damage to the skin.  The best way to prevent either is to seek the shade, wear protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and apply sunscreen every day.
  • Weakened immune system: due to a medical condition or medications.
  • Lots of moles: The more moles you have on your body, the higher your risk for melanoma.
  • Skin cancer history: People who have already had melanoma or non melanoma skin cancers run a greater risk of developing melanoma in the future.
  • Genetics: Melanoma can run in families – one in every 10 have a family member who also has had the disease.

Sunscreen is Essential. We all want to enjoy life.  Outdoor activities are an important part of our physical and mental health.  Ideally, people stick to shady outdoor adventures, but the sun peeks through no matter what you are doing.  How to get a little much needed vitamin D and still be safe in the sun?

The answer is getting the absolute best sunscreen.   That’s why we make it available in our office – so you won’t forget it the minute you walk out.   We also make it easy to buy  online with convenient shipping right to your door.  We will go to great lengths to get you using sunscreen.

Melanoma is treatable when caught early, usually with a wide excision, followed by a few anxious days waiting for pathology to see if the cancer might be spreading elsewhere in the body.  Avoid this worrisome situation by wearing sunscreen you like and will wear daily.

To explore our recommended sunscreens, visit  And remember, non-melanoma skin cancers are most common on the face. Purchase a good non-greasy product with a high SPF and apply daily.  If you are serious-minded patient, we carry SPF 75 sunscreen products that we promise you will love and have no problem working into your daily routine.

To schedule an appointment to have your moles checked, contact our office at (402) 933-0800 in Omaha and (402) 371-3564 in Norfolk.  Or schedule online at

Duchess Ferguson emphasized the importance of checking the size, shape, color and texture of new moles for signs of melanoma, her spokesperson said.  And this is advice we highly support. 




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