Sometimes it’s the eyes of a spouse, partner, or friend who gives the life-saving advice of, “you should get that spot checked out.” However, many times I find skin cancers as happenstance, when a patient comes in concerned for a completely different spot. Often these spots end up being Seborrheic Keratoses aka age spots. However, with years of experience, my eyes are trained to scan and zone in on what abnormal looks like for each individual. In the case of melanoma, it’s a spot you don’t want to miss.
Melanoma kills an estimated 10,000 people annually. It is caused by damage in skin cells, typically from sunlight or tanning beds. Such damage causes mutation-inducing growth of these cells. Approximately 30% of melanomas arise in pre-existing moles, while 70% arise De Novo, or in normal skin.
If melanomas are found early and are still thin, the 5-year survival rate is around 98%! This favorable outcome is only possible through early detection measures.
So what can you do to ensure you are not one of the 10,000 annual deaths?
Watch for changes in your moles. Do a monthly self-skin check, annual exam with a dermatology clinician, and know what you are looking for.
The ABCDE’s of Melanoma
A: Asymmetry: If you cut the mole in half, would both sides match up? Round, even, symmetrical are good signs.
B: Borders: Are the borders even and smooth? Irregular, notched borders are a bad sign.
C: Color: Normal moles should typically be one color. A mole with multiple colors or multiple shades of one color, should be considered suspicious.
D: Diameter: Abnormal moles tend to be bigger than the average mole. Anything larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser (about ¼ an inch) could be a sign of abnormality.
E: Evolution: A normal mole should keep the same look over time. A mole that is evolving or changing, in shape/size/color, should be considered abnormal.
This is a great guide, but depending on the mole, your natural skin color, and the look of your other moles, sometimes even moles that fall into these categories can be considered normal. That’s why it’s important to see a trained dermatology clinician. We look at people’s skin a typical 9,600 hours a year! It is recommended people who are fair, of European ancestry, or with a family history of melanoma come in for an annual full-body skin check. It might just save your life or the life of a loved one.
Find more information about melanoma at www.skincancer.org or www.melanoma.org