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Published on January 31, 2020

Autumn Wagner with Abigail Taub, MD

It looked like a freckle

Melanoma caught by collaboration between skincare specialists, dermatologists in Cosmetic Services

Autumn Wagner arrived at work one morning in September 2017 without wearing makeup, never suspecting that the decision could save her life.

She'd recently been hired as a skincare specialist in Dermatology at Gundersen Health System after 20 years in the field. As part of Gundersen's commitment to continuing medical education, she and a colleague were scheduled to increase their expertise of cosmetic laser treatments by practicing on each other.

Training facilitator Abigail Taub, MD, spotted a speck on Autumn's face. Immediately, Dr. Taub followed the process she was teaching Autumn to use if a suspicious mark was discovered on a patient: Dr. Taub stopped the procedure before it started.

Abigail Taub, MDAbigail Taub, MD

"She was certain of what it was," Autumn says. "To me, it looked like a freckle. I could cover it with one layer of foundation."

Dr. Taub took a biopsy that day and sent it for testing. Results revealed Autumn had skin cancer.

"The spot was a lentigo maligna," Dr. Taub explains. "This is a special type of melanoma that occurs in sun-damaged skin. It can be thought of as a sun spot gone bad. They tend to be slow growing, which makes them sneaky. People often overlook them because of a false sense of security that the spot has been present forever."

Dr. Taub removed Autumn's melanoma using a specialized procedure that precisely targets cancer cells and protects surrounding healthy tissue.

While the cancer was caught early—when it's most easily treated—Autumn now receives full body skin checks every three months as a preventive measure. The longer she remains cancer-free, the less frequently she'll need to be screened.

Today, Autumn is grateful for Dr. Taub's expertise and Gundersen's commitment to providing cosmetic services—like laser treatments, peels, microdermabrasion, BOTOX® and more—in the safest environment possible.

"If Autumn's melanoma had been treated with a laser, it may have improved the appearance of the spot on her skin while allowing malignant (cancerous) cells to continue growing under her skin. If the cancer had continued to grow, it may have grown downward and eventually spread throughout her body," Dr. Taub says.

To avoid such dangerous situations and protect patients, skincare specialists at Gundersen collaborate closely with our board-certified dermatologists. This means seeking a dermatologist's professional opinion before performing treatments that could potentially mask health risks like skin cancer.

As Autumn knows, the practice can be life-saving.

"When you come in for a cosmetic service, you'll receive a thorough skin analysis. If anything suspicious is spotted in the treatment area, your skincare specialist will ask one of our dermatologists to approve the treatment," Autumn says. "Some businesses offer cosmetic services under a physician's direction, but, unlike at Gundersen, the physician isn't always in the same building or even the same city. Our dermatologists are in our department open to close, every day."

If you do choose to receive a cosmetic service outside the walls of a trusted medical facility, Autumn has one piece of advice: "Please get checked by a dermatologist somewhere first. It's never too early to catch something."

It's important to monitor moles for signs of cancer. The ABCDE method can help. If you notice any of the following, you should get the mark checked out immediately by a dermatologist.

  • Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half
  • Border: The border or edges of the mole are uneven, blurred or irregular
  • Color: The mole has different colors, or it has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white or red
  • Diameter: The diameter of the mole is larger than a pencil eraser
  • Evolving: The mole appears different from others and/or is changing in size, color or shape

Visit Gundersen Cosmetic Services for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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