Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common skin cancer, yet extremely rare in children and teens. But it can happen, as Laura Anne Page discovered when she was just 16 years old.
In November 2020, Laura Anne was living her best life. She enjoyed high school, going out to eat with friends and family, singing in the chorus and being on the soccer team. The thought of skin cancer never crossed her mind.
Fortunately, Laura Anne is both observant and inquisitive. So, when she noticed a changing mole on her abdomen, she monitored it closely.
“I had this mole for as long as I can remember. Then it gradually grew bigger and got darker,” she explained. “I knew that changes in a mole were not normal, so I got worried.”
Laura Anne and her mother, Amanda, went to a dermatologist right away. To their surprise, the doctor was far more concerned about a different spot – a smaller mole on Laura Anne’s chest.
“The one she biopsied started as a little freckle, then got darker and a bit raised,” Laura Anne explained. “To me, it didn’t look cancerous.”
But it was. Nine days later, while visiting her grandmom, Laura Anne got the alarming news. “My mom called and asked to speak with grandmom. Then I overheard the word ‘cancer’ and I just knew,” she recalled. “So, we just stood there crying for a while. Then I stopped crying and ate some chicken nuggets. And then I went and aced my physics test.”
After acing physics, Laura Anne began studying up on an entirely different topic: skin cancer.
“I wanted to know everything about basal cell carcinoma,” she said. “I was glad that I looked it up because it made me a little less scared. It also helped me be more aware of what would happen during my surgery.”
Laura Anne was relieved to learn that when a BCC is identified and treated early, it is highly curable. She was happy that she paid attention to changes in her skin, spoke up quickly and sought the expertise of a dermatologist.
Laura Anne also discovered that although BCCs are quite rare in teens, she had risk factors for developing the disease. BCCs are most often seen in patients with fair skin types like hers. She also lives in the southern U.S., where UV rays are stronger. And while Laura Anne does not sunbathe and has never used a tanning bed, she has had UV exposure, including a couple of sunburns.
Laura Anne’s close relatives – her grandfathers and her mom, Amanda – have had skin cancer, which is another risk factor. In fact, a year after her surgery, Laura Anne noticed a new spot on Amanda’s nose, and urged her to get checked. The spot turned out to be a BCC.
Since her diagnosis, Laura Anne has made sun protection a habit, using sunscreen, covering up with clothing and wearing a hat and sunglasses when outside.
She checks her skin regularly, takes pictures of her moles and sees her dermatologist. And that initial mole that had Laura Anne so worried? A subsequent biopsy showed abnormalities, so Laura Anne opted to get it removed by her dermatologist. “I just wanted it taken off of me!”.
Laura Anne’s new passion is to spread awareness about skin cancer and the importance of prevention and early detection.
“I want everyone to know that just because it’s rare, doesn’t mean that you can’t get it,” she said. “When I see TikToks about girls going tanning, even joking about how they might possibly get skin cancer in 10 years, I know that it could happen to them way sooner. Anyone can get skin cancer, even teenagers.”