A mother-of-three was left with a gaping hole in her head after having a cancerous tumour removed from her head, which she blames on her frequent sunbed use.
Mary Bentley, from Dallas, Texas, was having a routine skin check-up with her dermatologist last month, when they noticed a ‘discoloured’ mark on her scalp.
A biopsy revealed that the 34-year-old’s unusual patch of skin was melanoma — the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
Surgeons had to cut away at the top of her head while she was awake, leaving a large gaping hole, the size of a golf ball, which revealed the top of her skull.
Tests showed that the operation was successful and the stay-at-home mother was given the all-clear to go home that night, after her skin was stapled back together.
The self-proclaimed ‘sunworshipper’ blames her regular sunbed use and time in the sun as a teenager for her cancer.
Despite starting to look after her skin years ago, she says the ‘damage was already done’.
She has now shared grisly photos of the hole in her head to raise awareness of the importance of protecting skin in the sun, warning that ‘the tan isn’t worth it’.
Mary Bentley, from Dallas, Texas (pictured with her husband Shawn), was having a routine skin check-up with her dermatologist last month, when they noticed a ‘discoloured’ mark on her scalp. A biopsy revealed that the 34-year-old’s unusual patch of skin was melanoma — the most dangerous type of skin cancer
Surgeons had to cut away at the top of her head while she was awake, leaving a large gaping hole, the size of a golf ball, which revealed the top of her skull. Pictured: Mrs Bentley’s scalp after the second round of skin cancer removal
The self-proclaimed ‘sunworshipper’ blames her frequent sun bed use and time in the sun as a teenager for her cancer. Despite starting to look after her skin years ago, she says the ‘damage was already done’. Pictured: Mrs Bentley in hospital after skin cancer removal
Melanoma: The most dangerous form of skin cancer
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It happens after the DNA in skin cells is damaged (typically due to harmful UV rays) and then not repaired so it triggers mutations that can form malignant tumours.
- Sun exposure: UV and UVB rays from the sun and tanning beds are harmful to the skin
- Moles: The more moles you have, the greater the risk for getting melanoma
- Skin type: Fairer skin has a higher risk for getting melanoma
- Hair colour: Red heads are more at risk than others
- Personal history: If you’ve had melanoma once, then you are more likely to get it again
- Family history: If previous relatives have been diagnosed, then that increases your risk
This can be done by removing the entire section of the tumor or by the surgeon removing the skin layer by layer. When a surgeon removes it layer by layer, this helps them figure out exactly where the cancer stops so they don’t have to remove more skin than is necessary.
The patient can decide to use a skin graft if the surgery has left behind discoloration or an indent.
- Immunotherapy, radiation treatment or chemotherapy:
This is needed if the cancer reaches stage III or IV. That means that the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes or other organs in the body.
- Use sunscreen and do not burn
- Avoid tanning outside and in beds
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside
- Keep newborns out of the sun
- Examine your skin every month
- See your physician every year for a skin exam
Source: Skin Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Society
Mrs Bentley booked in a routine check-up with a dermatologist in early July.
While having her skin looked over, her doctor noticed a ‘discoloured’ flat mark in the centre of her scalp, underneath her hair.
Mrs Bentley said: ‘She looked me over head to toe.
‘She says “let me have a look at your scalp because I haven’t checked your scalp” and she looks and sees that spot — it was just a weird discoloration that was flat.
‘I wouldn’t have even noticed that, I was paying more attention to my moles and seeing if they were evolving and changing.
‘She biopsied it and about a week later the results came back that it was melanoma.’
Mrs Bentley added: ‘When I got the phone call I was scared for sure and shocked, I wasn’t expecting that.
‘The good news is that it hadn’t spread, it was localised in that spot.
‘I read that it can spread a lot faster when it’s on your head — certain parts of the body are more dangerous and that’s one of them.’
Around 17,000 Britons and 78,000 Americans are diagnosed with the skin cancer every year.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer because of its ability to spread to other organs more rapidly if it is not caught early.
The dermatologist measured her melanoma to be 4.2cm by 2.6cm — bigger than a £2 coin.
Mrs Bentley believes that using sunbeds in her teens to chase a ‘golden’ tan all year round is to blame for her cancer.
The mother-of-three, who labels herself a former ‘sunworhsipper’, said she also spent a lot of time outdoors in the summer to keep topped-up.
Despite ending her sun-seeking behaviour years ago, she said the ‘damage was already done’.
She previously had a cancerous scare when she was 19, when dermatologists were concerned about four moles. But none required further treatment.
Over the next 15 years she has had more than 25 biopsies of moles. Five turned out to be precancerous, on top of the most recent and serious melanoma on her scalp.
Mrs Bentley was transferred to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre for surgery on July 21.
Surgeons numbed her scalp and cut out the melanoma, while she was awake, through Mohs Micrographic Surgery — a technique where a tumour is mapped under the microscope and then removed.
She said: ‘That was disgusting because as they’re working on your scalp while you’re awake, you can hear the scissors snipping and them cutting your scalp.
‘He gets the first large piece cut out and one of the medical assistants goes ‘oh wow I’ve never seen a skull like that before’. I was like ‘I don’t want to hear how you can see my skull’.
After dressing her wound, Mrs Bentley waited for a few hours while medics carried out further tests on biopsies from her skull to ensure they removed all of the cancer.
However, results showed that they had not removed it all. She went under the knife for a second time that day so doctors could remove more of her skin.
Mrs Bentley said: ‘After that they called me back and said they got it all and I was so relieved because I didn’t want to go through that again.
‘It was a coin size at least and then the actual cut out was a lot larger to make sure they got it all.’
Mrs Bentley booked in a routine check-up with a dermatologist in early July. While having her skin looked over, her doctor noticed a ‘discoloured’ flat mark in the centre of her scalp, underneath her hair (pictured)
By the end of the procedure, doctors had remove an area bigger than her melanoma, measuring 4.5cm by 3.1cm — around the size of a golf ball. Doctors then used staples to cover the hole in her head (pictured)
After her numerous cancer scares, the mother is passionate about teaching her children about looking after their skin and hopes to encourage others to do the same. Pictured: Mrs Bentley with her husband Shawn, and their children Allie (right), Hannah (middle) and Gus (left)
By the end of the procedure, doctors had remove an area bigger than her melanoma, measuring 4.5cm by 3.1cm — around the size of a golf ball.
Doctors then used staples to cover the hole in her head.
Mrs Bentley said: ‘I knew I was going to have a piece cut out but I didn’t expect it to be that severe.
‘My husband has been with me through my history of biopsies and he wasn’t even too worried about it until they did that first cut out.
‘His mom was with me and sent him the picture and he started crying and that’s when it got real for him. He was like ‘I did not expect it to be that big’.’
After spending her childhood and young adulthood in the sun, Mrs Bentley started seeing her dermatologist ever few months to stay on top of any concerning moles.
She explained: ‘I grew up here in Texas in the pool and on the lake because it’s so hot here. Everyone knows about skin cancer but you don’t think it’ll happen to you.
‘When I got into high school I did use a tanning bed, that’s what all the girls were doing – everyone was always bronzed and brown and now I’m paying for it.
‘I’ve always had a lot of moles and when I was 19 my husband said ‘you might want to go and get those checked out’ so I went to the dermatologist.
‘They did some biopsies and one of them came back that it wasn’t skin cancer but it was a precancerous spot so they had to do a larger biopsy.
‘That’s where it all started and I did start being more precautious but the damage was already done.
‘I’ve stayed on top of it and I would go to the dermatologist every three to six months and I have several scars [from removals].’
Mrs Bentley had the staples removed from her scalp on August 4.
She said her hair has already started to grow back on the area shaved for surgery.
Her doctors warned that she may develop alopecia and suffer hair loss around the scar in the future. But she said she feels grateful for her ‘lucky escape’.
After her numerous cancer scares, the mother is passionate about teaching her children about looking after their skin and hopes to encourage others to do the same.
She said: ‘With my own children I’ve always driven them crazy because I lather them in sunblock and put long sleeves on them but now this has happened they’re more aware and realise how important it is.
‘It’s not a joke, it is serious and it’s not fun to go through. I’m lucky I didn’t have to go through further treatment because it didn’t spread.
‘The beautiful bronze skin is not worth it, baking in the sun and tanning beds is not worth it because it could be lethal.
‘You don’t think of that when you’re tanning but it could cost you your life. I just hope people learn to take care of their skin.
‘Nowadays they have all these fake tanners if you want to be bronze for the weekend — just go buy one of them, it’s way safer.’