May is designated “Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month” by dermatologists to raise public awareness about the dangers of skin cancer. Did you know that according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime? And in the United States, one person dies from melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer, every hour? But there is good news. Not only can we help prevent skin cancer by adopting safe sun practices (such as using a broad-spectrum sunscreen at least SPF 30 coupled with a hat, sunglasses and clothing whenever possible), but when detected early, melanoma is almost 100% curable. To catch melanoma in the earliest, most curable stages, here’s what you need to know when looking at the moles and growths on your skin. Follow the American Academy of Dermatology’s ABCDE’s of melanoma:
A stands for Asymmetry: If a line is drawn through the center of a normal mole, the halves are equal. However, in melanoma, the halves are usually unequal and irregular.
B stands for Border: The border of a normal mole is smooth whereas melanoma is often jagged, scalloped or even spiked.
C stands for Color: Having multiple colors within a mole (black, light brown, red, white) is a warning sign that it may be dangerous.
D stands for Diameter: A dark growth larger than 6mm or the size of a pencil eraser is particularly worrisome, but it’s important to know that melanoma can be much smaller when first detected.
E stands for Evolving: In my opinion, this is the most important warning sign of a possible dangerous mole. Any growth that is changing in size, shape or color OR develops a new symptom such as bleeding or itching needs to be evaluated by a dermatologist.
I encourage my patients to perform a self-skin exam once a month when getting either in or out of the shower. Get familiar with the moles, growths, freckles, etc. on your skin. You can also use a mirror (or a partner) to help check hard-to-see areas. By doing so, you’ll be able to notice any new growths if they occur and have them evaluated right away. Melanoma is usually curable when found early and self-skin exams are a great way to take charge of your own health.