To raise awareness of melanoma and other types of skin cancer, each year the American Academy of Dermatology designates May as Skin Cancer Awareness Month. In doing her part to amplify and expand the message, melanoma warrior and awareness advocate Timna Understein, who has bravely battled the deadly disease three times since 2008, is shining a spotlight on our vulvas and vaginas. Her need to speak out was sparked by a dialogue she had with her gynecologist, and now she wants every woman to know that, albeit rare, “Melanoma goes there!”

This is how their conversation went…

Timna's conversation with her doc

As a follow-up, Timna then asked her surgical oncologist about the vaginal melanoma examination topic, and was told, “The vulva should be checked by BOTH your dermatologist and your gynecologist. The internal vaginal area should be checked by your gynecologist.”

“The vulva should be checked by BOTH your dermatologist and your gynecologist.”

In speaking about this in our office, everyone on the WYSK team assumed that our gynecologists do visual checks for different types of lesions or skin anomalies, but none of us ever thought to ask specifically about melanoma since the sun doesn’t typically shine there. But what Timna explained – and this is critical intel – is that melanoma is not ALWAYS caused by sun exposure, especially when it comes to our lady parts (more on that below).

Knowing what we now know, all of us plan to heed her advice… “Don’t be embarrassed to ask your doc to look for pigmented lesions at these visits!”

Vaginal Melanoma

Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, “accounts for only 1% of skin cancer cases but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths.” It is a type of skin cancer that is usually found on on sun-exposed areas of the skin but can form on the skin of the vulva, or in the vagina or other internal organs.

Vaginal melanoma, one of several types of vaginal cancer, develops “from pigment-producing cells that give skin its color.” What we do know is that it’s rare. According to the American Cancer Society, “About 9 of every 100 cases of vaginal cancer are melanomas.” They estimate for vaginal cancer (in general) in the United States for 2016:

– About 4,620 new cases will be diagnosed

– About 950 women will die of this cancer

Since rare does not equal impossible, we thank Timna for bringing this eye-opening information about vaginal melanoma to us and for helping empower women about their health.

What You Should Know About Timna

Timna_Understein_2015Timna Understein is a melanoma warrior who has bravely battled this disease three times since 2008, along with a Primary Acquired Melanosis of her left eye in 2012. Read her inspiring story here.

She is also the Woman You Should Know who founded Respect The Rays, a comprehensive melanoma education and awareness movement that targets young people. Follow Respect The Rays on Facebook.