A woman who noticed a small red lump on her chest has described her shock to discover it was stage 2 skin cancer.
In 2021, Rebecca Turner, a nurse from Barry, noticed an area of skin on her chest had begun to lose its pigment and a small red lump had also appeared.
After seeking medical advice, the 44-year-old claims she was initially told it was "nothing sinister" and was shocked to discover, months after first raising the issue with the GP, that the lump was a malignant melanoma.
A spokesperson for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said it was unable to comment on individual cases but apologised for Ms Turner's experience and said, in response, it has made improvements to its service.
Ms Turner underwent several procedures to remove the melanoma and stop it from spreading, leaving her with an 18cm scar across her chest.
Ms Turner said she always wore suncream and was not considered high-risk for skin cancer due to her dark hair and skin colouring.
But in December 2021, the Barry mother was quick to book an appointment with the GP after noticing the small red lump on her chest.
The doctor took pictures and sent them to the dermatologist. Ms Turner said she was told she would hear something within three weeks but four weeks later, she had not had an update so called back herself. She was then told more photos needed to be taken.
Three weeks after the additional images were taken, the 44-year-old said she called back and was told it was "nothing sinister" and to expect a letter for an appointment with the dermatologist.
Nearly six months after first seeing the GP, Ms Turner had an appointment with the dermatologist where a biopsy was taken. She then received a letter for a follow-up.
"I had a letter for an appointment, eight weeks after I was first seen," she said.
"I assumed the labs had not found anything. By this point, what they had taken had regrown.
"I was at the appointment on my own and I overheard the consultant say to the health care assistant, 'Of course it has regrown, it is malignant melanoma."
Ms Turner said she was floored by hearing the news this way. She was alone at the time, without a family member or dedicated cancer nurse. She described the moment as "not the best of experiences to be put through" and claimed she was ushered out of the room still in tears.
Ms Turner said she was told the reason she was not immediately referred to a dermatologist was because her melanoma was "not a usual presentation" of the cancer.
Various tests found the stage 2 cancer had not spread. She went on to have two more procedures to remove the melanoma, as well as remove the lymph nodes in the surrounding area, to try and prevent the cancer from spreading.
She said: "Every day it is there, you have a risk of it spreading throughout your body."
"If I had been seen within the three weeks of first going to the doctor, it is very likely that my melanoma would have been at a stage 1," she said.
"I would have had a lesser chance of recurrence."
Since undergoing her last procedure in September 2022, Ms Turner has undergone a number of three-monthly checks to make sure the cancer has not returned. She has been left with an 18cm scar across her chest.
After five years, there will be no more scans and checks but Ms Turner said she will live with the risk of it returning for the rest of her life, “however long that might be.”
A spokesperson from charity Melanoma Focus said: "Cases of melanoma are increasing in the UK and it is the deadliest form of skin cancer. There are around 2,300 melanoma skin cancer deaths in the UK every year (about seven every day) and the number of cases is expected to continue to rise.
"Projections suggest there could be around 26,500 new cases of melanoma skin cancer every year in the UK by 2038, an increase from the current figure of 16,700."
After her own experience, Ms Turner wants more people to be aware of the dangers of UV rays and how certain sun cream factors may not offer adequate protection.
She said while living abroad for a year she would "always be reapplying sun cream" but only ever used factor 20 or below because she never burnt. Now she will not leave the house without wearing factor 50 sun cream, with a UVA rating of 5 stars.
She added: "I used to use sun beds occasionally when I was younger, it was the done thing before you go on holiday. But they are a predominant factor in people getting skin cancer, they should be banned.
"People think it is just a skin cancer and I am a nurse myself, I didn’t have the awareness of it. I work in acute medicine and I went through stages of feeling stupid for not knowing this, I should know better, the education is shocking."
A spokesperson for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said: “Whilst we are unable to comment on individual cases, we would like to apologise for Ms Turner's experience of accessing care.
“Ms Turner has been in contact with our concerns team regarding her case and, as a learning organisation, we have taken steps to address the issues raised. We can confirm a review has been undertaken of the service provision at University Hospital Llandough and service improvements have been implemented. Such improvements include, a clinical nurse specialist working with medical staff to when a cancer diagnosis is required so that the patient receives expert specialist care. We have also implemented a specialised photography service to provide dermascopic imaging to aid the referral triage process.
"As outlined in the concerns response the Health Board would welcome the opportunity to meet with Ms Turner to discuss the improvements.”
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