DETROIT (AP) â€” Years ago, Rachael Rivers noticed a mole on her back. A doctor told her not to worry about, so she didn't.
Then, in anatomy class, the 27-year-old student studied the body of a woman who had died of melanoma. That woman had a skin lesion that looked a lot like hers, in nearly the same spot.
She saw a dermatologist, and it saved her life.
Within weeks, the Macomb Community College nursing student was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer that strikes more than 40,000 Americans annually, killing 7,300 of them.
Rivers had surgery to remove the lesion from the small of her back but was spared chemotherapy or radiation therapy. She'll have follow-up checks to make sure the cancer is gone.
``Fortunately, I got it taken care of,'' she said Thursday. ``I was lucky.''
The 52-year-old woman whose body was studied by Rivers' class had died of metastatic melanoma, said William Burkel, who directs the University of Michigan's anatomical donation program, which provided the body.
Burkel was unaware of another situation where a student turned out to have the same disease as a class cadaver.
``You know it does happen with medical students that they suddenly get every disease they're studying,'' he said.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer; about 1 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed a year. Caught early, most skin cancer is curable.
Melanomas often start as small, mole-like growths that increase in size, change color, become ulcerated and bleed easily from slight injury. Malignant melanoma can spread to other parts of the body quickly, but when caught early is highly curable.
On the Net: American Association for Cancer Research: http://www.aacr.org
University of Michigan Anatomical Donations Program: http://www.med.umich.edu/anatomy/donors/