Skin cancer warnings: 3 lessons from a melanoma survivor


Norah O’Donnell, host of “CBS This Morning,” will never forget the day her dermatologist gave her the news that she had skin cancer. She was shopping on Black Friday when her doctor emailed her and said they needed to talk ASAP.

Read more: Essential health care resources to know about if you’re broke

TV’s Norah O’Donnell opens up about melanoma diagnosis

As O’Donnell writes in the June 2017 issue of Good Housekeeping, she called from the store and found out that she had melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Shocked and scared, tears ran down her face as she left the store on that busy shopping day.

Photo: AP

Here’s why O’Donnell was so worried: Melanoma accounts for only about 1% of all skin cancers but causes a “large majority” of skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

Of the estimated 87,110 new cases in 2017, 9,730 people are expected to die of melanoma.

O’Donnell’s cancer was caught early. She underwent surgery and has made a full recovery. But she now says she probably could have prevented it.

Here are three lessons O’Donnell wanted to share:

1. Wear sunscreen daily

Growing up in Texas, O’Donnell, 43, says she spent many hours outside without sunscreen.

Sunburns increase the risk of melanoma. Dr. Elizabeth Hale, O’Donnell’s dermatologist, said just five sunburns during childhood can double the risk of skin cancer.


When you’re buying sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology says there are three key things to look for on the label:

  • Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
  • Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or higher
  • Water resistance

Dermatologists say it’s important to wear sunscreen daily, even on cloudy days.

Consumer Reports has ranked sunscreens and found that you don’t have to pay big bucks to protect your skin. Here are the best sunscreens for your money.

2. Tanning is dangerous

In an interview with her colleagues at CBS News, O’Donnell admits that she made the poor choice of using a tanning bed during high school, especially before prom.

“Tanning is more directly related now to skin cancer than smoking is to lung cancer,” Dr. Hale said.

Here’s another alarming statistic: People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75%, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, the CDC says tanning damages the skin and can lead to cancer.

3. You need to get checked

Dermatologists generally recommend that you get a skin exam every year, but it had been a couple of years for O’Donnell.


During a routine exam, Dr. Hale spotted a mole on O’Donnell’s upper back that looked asymmetrical, had irregular borders and was varied in color — all possible signs of skin cancer.

When doing a monthly self-check at home, remember the ABCDE Rule:

Melanoma rates in the United States have been rising for 30 years, so it’s more important than ever to wear sunscreen, avoid tanning beds and get an annual skin check.

Read more about O’Donnell’s story in Good Housekeeping.

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