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Mom battling melanoma at 31 believes tanning beds to blame

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Melanoma is considered the deadliest form of skin cancer. A veteran dermatologist says he used to see three to five melanomas a year. Now, he says, he sees that many in a week!

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in people in their late 20s.

Sarah Brandes is only 31, with two young children. In her youth, she says she was frequent flyer in the tanning bed.

Sarah developed a mole on her leg. She says at first,  it looked like nothing, but it was melanoma.

"My mole was the size of a pencil eraser...Underneath, what they took out was the size of a softball," Brandes said.

Despite several surgeries and harsh medications, Sarah Brandes' melanoma just keeps coming back.

"They removed a big mass from my calf, it went down to the muscle, burrowed into muscle, they didn't get all of it, trying to buy me time and stop the spread so I could get on some more medicine," Brandes said.

The medicine is experimental. Melanoma is often more aggressive in younger people, which dermatologist Steve Grekin says doctors aren't used to.

"Melanoma used to be a disease that affected people 50, 60, 70 years of age. Now we see them 20, 30 or 40 years of age and it's being directly linked to ultraviolet exposure. Tanning beds and lots of unprotected sun when we're on a vacation," Grekin said.

"To have that golden bronze tan isn't worth dying over," Grekin said.

Having a doctor examine your moles with a handheld microscope is one of the best ways to diagnose melanoma.

When looking at your own body, look for asymmetry -- one half the mole doesn't match the other, irregular borders, irregularity, varied color and a large diameter.

Finding melanoma early is key to survival, even though for Sarah  that's not easy.  
 
"I'm not going to give up. If they tell me this isn't working, I'll do what I can to find something else, to keep going," said Brandes.

Preventing melanoma means don't go to tanning beds, wear sun screen when you're outside. One blistering sunburn as a child can double your risk later in life.

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