A local doctor’s surgery is raising awareness about melanoma in children after 13-year-old Oliver Iacuzzi was the second young person to be diagnosed with skin cancer since they opened in 2019.
Northstar Medical Centre’s Dr Hussain Anjum and registrar Dr M. Zeeshan Aftab were both shocked to find a suspicious mole on the side of Oliver’s neck was in fact a sinister skin cancer, but their quick medical treatment may have saved the life of the local teenager.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops in the skin cells called melanocytes and usually occurs on the parts of the body that have been overexposed to the sun.
According to Cancer Council it is estimated more than 17,700 people were diagnosed with melanoma last year with the average age at diagnosis being 64 years old.
“Ollie is a young kid and young kids shouldn’t have things that are normally diagnosed at an older age,” Dr Hussain said.
“He is the second under-13-year-old since we opened here in Moore Park; we previously had a 12-year-old young girl, so that brings home the point that it should be noted and told to the community that we are living in a place where skin cancer and melanoma is not distinguishing between ages anymore.
“Had we not acted upon it, it could have been life-limiting in a very young age, which just breaks my heart as I have a son who is a 12-year-old.
“That’s why it’s important to spread the message and raise awareness and ask people to never be in doubt – if you have a doubt get it checked out!”
Oliver's mole changes a concern
Oliver was born with the mole on the side of his neck and it was his mother who noticed 13 years later that it had started to change.
Accompanying Oliver to see the doctor for a check-up, his grandmother Jocelyn Iacuzzi said the whole family was in shock to hear the news in February that someone so young could have melanoma.
“We just thought, well it’s just a mole and nothing else and children don’t get skin cancer, especially Oliver who has been into gymnastics since he was six, an indoor sport, so not out in the sun all the time,” Jocelyn said.
“We watched the mole for about six months and saw the subtle changes and thought something wasn’t right.
“Oliver said it was itchy and his mum had her suspicions, so she Googled it and then brought Oliver in to see the doctor.”
Dr Hussain said it was Dr Aftab who initially thought Oliver’s mole needed further investigation when he was seen just six weeks ago, in February.
“It didn’t sit right with him, and he asked me to have a look and it was decided, although very rarely do we need to take something out in a kid, a patient, of this age group,” he said.
“Although this was a long-term lesion the changes were subtle and had to be noted, and in my experience, I advised for it to be biopsied by Dr Aftab.
“Sure enough we then got a call from the pathologist saying, ‘are you sure he is only 13 and not 23?’.
“They were surprised and sent the sample down to Melbourne and Sydney headquarters to cross-check with the melanoma experts of the world and sure enough, it was melanoma.”
Dr Aftab said if left untreated the melanoma on Oliver’s neck could have potentially been life threatening for Oliver.
“I am from a surgical background in Pakistan, and we do not get too much skin cancers there,” Dr Aftab said.
“Not having too much experience in diagnosing melanoma, especially in such a young boy I could not believe myself in what I was about to say to the family, so I could only find the words ‘I do not like this lesion’ to them.
“By not missing the lesion it does give me satisfaction because in a few months with this melanoma (and) with the size of it, it could have been fatal for him.”
Oliver said he was overwhelmed by the skin cancer diagnosis at first, but relieved to know it was discovered early enough to remove it all.
“I am definitely grateful now, but it was scary,” Oliver said.
“Thank you to the doctors for saving my life.”
If in doubt get it checked out
Dr Hussain said Northstar Medical Centre now had a “distinct status of diagnosing some of the youngest melanoma patients in Queensland”.
“It’s my passion is to teach and check for skin cancers, and we take a lot of pride in doing this,” he said.
“We are one of the higher diagnostic areas in terms of having higher than the average rate of skin cancers.
“The awareness of skin cancer has taken off in the last decade or two.
“But as we are still in the initial stages of knowing the full extent of it and having been surprised by such a young age group, like Oliver, it is important as a doctor who cares for his local population that we learn from it every step of the way and spread the message: ‘when in doubt get it checked out’.”
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