Warning from Austin teen with skin cancer



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Posted on May 11, 2012 at 5:02 PM

Updated Friday, May 11 at 6:22 PM

WESTLAKE, Texas -- We've all heard the warnings to stay out of the sun, but those warnings may not be getting to the people who need to hear it most. An Austin teen hopes to help.

Meredith Parks’ life has always revolved around tennis. 

"Pretty much, I started out in the peewee groups at five years old and just stuck with it," she said.

She never knew how much her time on the court would change her life.

Two years ago, Parks noticed a mole on the back of her leg getting darker. A test showed it was melanoma. At age 14, Parks was told she had the deadliest form of skin cancer.

"It was a huge shock honestly,” she said. “The first thing I thought was ‘Am I going to die?’"       

That was a valid concern since her uncle had just died of skin cancer a few years earlier. 

Parks' friends were shocked.

"They didn't think a 15-year-old girl could get skin cancer because it's usually older people that get that," she said. "My mom always told me you know, 'Put on your sunscreen' and that was really important. And I just said, ‘Oh yeah.' I would do it but didn't think anything would come if I skipped a day or anything,” she said.     

That's changing.

"We're seeing a much greater increase in melanoma diagnosis in women under  30,” said Peggy Chern, MD.

In fact, studies show cases of melanoma in young women have grown eight fold since 1994, and four fold in young men.

“So we're trying to figure out if that's related to certain behaviors like increases in tanning bed use. But we do know that increase in melanoma, specifically, is highest in women,” said Dr. Chern.

New sunscreen labels

This summer the FDA is changing the requirements for all sunscreens.

"So you really do want to look for coming this summer something to say that it's SPF 30 or greater, and that it is really adequately protective, and you want it to say 'broad spectrum.'" That means the lotion can block UVA and UVB rays.

Park's outcome is good. Her cancer was caught early, but doctor appointments will be a regular part of her routine the rest of her life.

She hopes that by sharing her story, next time you're out enjoying the Texas sun, you'll think of her.

"It just shows that it can happen to anyone. Definitely sunscreen can help you prevent that, because it can happen to anyone,” she said.

Free skin cancer screenings

Saturday May 12 from 9 a.m. to noon, you can get your skin tested free at several locations around Central Texas. 

Westlake Dermatology is opening up its Westlake, Lakeway, and Round Rock offices. No appointment is necessary; just show up.

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