Why skin screenings matter

Norma Goldberger first realized the mole on her neck looked different when make-up wouldn’t cover it anymore.

Still, the change was slight. It hadn’t changed colors. It was just a little bigger.

She thought about getting it checked, but she didn’t want to pay for a doctor’s visit. She’d wait for a skin screening, she thought. She showed it to some of her family members, but nobody seemed worried.

Time went on, and Goldberger put off getting it checked. Finally, more than six months after she had noticed the change, she went to a community forum, the Focus on Females Women’s Healthcare Symposium. Among the speakers: Dr. Mary Lien, assistant professor of dermatology at USF College of Medicine.

Dr. Lien’s word burned into Goldberger’s mind.

“She kept saying it over and over again,” Goldberger said. “The cost of an unnecessary biopsy is dollars. But the cost of missing a necessary biopsy could be your life.”

Finally concerned, Goldberger called USF Health and asked for the first available dermatology appointment.  She went to see Dr. Phillip Shenefelt, a USF associate professor of dermatology, and got the mole biopsied.

USF dermatologist Dr. Phillip Shenefelt with patient Norma Goldberger.

Then a USF resident called Goldberger with the results: she needed surgery. The next day.

The mole that Goldberger had delayed getting checked turned out to be melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer. Fortunately for her, it was still at stage 1, the earliest and most easily treated stage. Goldberger had that mole, and two others close to it, removed the next day.

“Really, I owe Dr. Lien’s presentation to motivating me, to not waiting around anymore,” Goldberger said.

Dr. Lien said she tries to walk the line between scaring people and motivating them.

“I don’t like to be the voice of doom,” she said. “But there’s a problem with skin cancer. It doesn’t hurt.”

That makes it easy to put off getting suspicious moles checked, she said.

Goldberger’s decision to finally get her mole checked may have saved her life, Dr. Shenefelt said.

“The deeper it goes, the higher the risk of metastasis,” or spreading to other areas, he said. “That can be very serious, and sometimes fatal.”

Dr. Neil Fenske, professor and chairman of the dermatology department, said he hopes Goldberger’s experience will inspire others to act.

“I am so glad Mrs. Goldberger got her unusual mole checked in time to have her melanoma successfully treated,” he said.  “I hope her story will remind people just how important it is to get regular skin cancer screenings.”

Goldberger, 63, feels fortunate. She and her husband, Stephen, celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary this month. After raising three children, owning a business and then editing a magazine together, they have retired and divide their time between Ohio and Apollo Beach.

Still, the experience has changed Goldberger’s behavior.

“I’m using sunscreen religiously now,” she said. “I always wear a hat. I bought an Australian top that looks dreadful over a bathing suit, but it’s an SPF fabric.”

L to R: Dr. Shenefelt, Dr. Mary Lien and Goldberger

Goldberger also has returned to USF practitioners since to have other moles checked.

“I don’t feel a private office physician is as up on the latest research as a teaching hospital,” she said. “I feel the quality of medical care in a teaching hospital is higher.”

But when she returned to see Dr. Shenefelt after a biopsy this month, she got good news. This time, the biopsy results were normal.


It’s almost time for Melanoma Monday, a national event to raise awareness about skin cancer. At USF Health, hundreds of patients get free skin cancer screenings each year from the university’s dermatologists and medical residents. This year’s Melanoma Monday will be: May 4 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the USF Health Medical Clinic, 12901 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.


Dermatologists have an “ABCDE” list of when you should get a mole or pigmented spot checked. The symptoms are:

Asymmetry – one half unlike the other half

Border – Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border

Color – Varied from one area to another; shades of tan, brown, black, or sometimes white, red or blue

Diameter – Melanomas are usually bigger than 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser), although they can be smaller

Evolving – A mole or spot that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, color or shape.

– Story by Lisa Greene, USF Health Communications
– Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications


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