Former Moonlighting star Cybill Shepherd is battling a deadly form of skin cancer, according to published reports.

Shepherd, 52, was diagnosed with melanoma on her back after she discovered a "scaly patch" on her back -- and within a day had the patch removed, leaving a "disfiguring" scar that required plastic surgery, The Star is reporting in its Sept. 3 issue. 

But Sheperd's spokeswoman is downplaying the sensational report. 

"She had a benign growth removed from her back seven months ago -- that's all," says Heidi Schaeffer of PMK, which represents the TV star. 

Sheperd has been getting regular check-ups since then to guard against a re-occurrence, the publicist said. 

"When Cybill was first told she had melanoma, she was hysterical," a source tells The Star. "All she could think of was that she was going to suffer a horrible, painful death and her children would lose their mother. 

"She hardly slept and cried constantly." 

Shepherd's mother, Patty Micci, confirmed the cancer. Melanoma is a deadlier form of skin cancer than squamous-cell and basal-cell cancers, which are more common. 

Micci told The Star that Shepherd's skin cancer is likely the result of spending too much time in the sun. 

"When Cybill was young, she went out in the sun a lot," she said. "We lived near a lake, and she used to bake in the sun on a dock, applying lots of suntan oil. 

"Back then, we had no idea just how damaging the sun's rays could be, so we encouraged our kids to sunbathe." 

Micci said skin cancer runs in Shepherd's family -- putting her kids, Clementine (23), and twins Ariel and Zach (14) at risk. 

"Cybill makes sure she covers herself from head to toe whenever she goes out into the hot sun of the San Fernando Valley where she lives," Micci said. 

"Cybill will even wear gloves on her hands if she is going to be out in the sun for any length of time."

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