WARNING: IMAGES MAY BE DISTURBING
(NBC News/TODAY) — An Australian man is urging everyone to get a skin check after a mole that looked like an unassuming sunspot on the back of his neck turned out to be melanoma.
Ryan Glossop of Perth had to endure 40 biopsies and four surgeries to remove all of the cancer, which ultimately forced doctors to take out a big chunk of his skin on his neck and back.
“What started out so small turned into something that none of us were ready for,” his wife Fallon wrote this month on Facebook.
“This whole experience has been hugely challenging for all of us, but if anything good is to come out of this, it is that we now want to help raise more awareness of skin cancer.”
The couple did not respond to a TODAY request for comment, but Fallon Glossop wrote that her husband was diagnosed with melanoma in November 2018. It happened after someone pointed out the suspect mole to Ryan and he was “fortunate to have a skin check at work,” he added in a post.
His mole was classified as a nevus spilus, which is a common skin lesion that contains multiple pigmented spots within a broader pigmented patch, said Dr. Adam Friedman, professor and interim chair of dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He was not involved in Ryan Glossop’s case.
Because those skin lesions can contain moles, there’s a low risk for developing melanoma.
“To me, the large brown patch at the upper portion is irregular and does not fit with what one would expect from a (nevus spilus),” Friedman told TODAY.
“A picture cannot capture change over time, which I think is an important feature to consider. Is a spot growing or shrinking, lighter or darker, symmetric or asymmetric?”
Such questions are part of the ABCDEs of melanoma, an acronym that considers not just one feature of a mole, but five: asymmetry, border, color, diameter and, “most importantly,” evolution, Friedman said.
The back of the neck is a common spot for skin cancer because it’s a sun-exposed area that many people forget to protect, along with ears, neck and hands, he added.
As doctors removed Ryan Glossop’s affected skin, the margins kept coming back as abnormal, his wife wrote, or still containing cancerous cells. In May, a large area of skin from his neck and back was taken out and he had a skin graft using tissue from his legs to cover that huge section.
Doctors need to remove enough normal skin around the tumor to ensure it is all out, Friedman noted.
After Ryan Glossop’s wife posted his ordeal, he wrote it was his opportunity to motivate others to get their skin checked.
“Fortunately for me, the rest is in the past and I’m moving forward,” he wrote on Facebook.
“The strength that Ryan has had through this whole process amazes me, not only has he managed his pain considerably well but he has kept it together,” his wife added, urging others to spread his message. “Your life is too precious to just bake yourself in the sun and not worry about your skin.”
The case highlights the importance of diligent sun protection of exposed areas of the body every day, using SPF 30+ broad spectrum sunscreen and protective clothing, Friedman said.
He recommends annual skin checks with a board certified dermatologist, and self-checks every other month to look for new spots and moles, or monitor any that are changing. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the easier it is to treat and the greater the chance for survival, he noted.