With a family history of skin cancer, spending every minute I can outdoors, and enjoying several years of baseball under the sun; there’s absolutely no way I’m missing my annual skin cancer screening with my dermatologist. Taking a few minutes for his head to toe skin assessment can literally be a life saver.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, impacting 1 in 5 Americans during their lifetime. While many types of skin cancers are curable, one type (melanoma) can be deadly if not caught promptly. Working with a dermatologist to “know your spots” can help establish the early detection and subsequent treatments necessary to keep the odds in your favor. It’s also as easy as A-B-C-D-E.
A, for asymmetry. Spots with irregular borders are more concerning opposed to those with a round and symmetrical appearance. Imagine drawing a line in the middle of the spot. If one half doesn’t match the other, it’s a good indication the spot is asymmetrical and should be reported immediately to your dermatologist for further review and assessment.
B, is for borders. The borders on spots and moles should be smooth and even. Melanomas often tend to be more uneven, with edges having a “scalloped” or notched presentation. Best rule of thumb…smooth and round is good, anything else is bad and needs to be checked more closely.
C, represents color. Benign moles tend to be one color and are most often brown. However, when multiple colors are present (such as brown, black, or tan), this may signal a warning that it’s not benign. Melanomas may also become red, white, or blue.
D, is for diameter. In this case, smaller is better usually. While melanomas may start small, they tend to grow to be 6 millimeters or larger. An easy way to evaluate size is compare it to a standard pencil eraser, which is roughly ¼ inch, or 6 millimeters.
E, or evolution. Observing for changes in size, shape, color, and elevation are all characteristics to stay on top of. Bleeding, itching, or crusting are signs of potential trouble as well. Bottom line, if a mole shows ANY signs of changing in ANY way, it’s time to see your dermatologist as soon as possible.
Aside from following the A-B-C-D-E’s of skin cancer, knowing the single most and primary risk factor in developing skin cancer is prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Whether it comes from the sun directly, and/or tanning beds, powerful UV rays cause a tremendous amount of skin damage. Sunburns, especially those that are severe (causing blistering and bleeding) exponentially increase these risks. Also, people with fair colored skin, light hair, and light eye color tend to burn more easily and have a greater sensitivity to UV rays making them more susceptible to melanoma. However, skin cancer can and does occur in every race, skin color, and ethnicity.
Lastly, between scheduled dermatology appointments, it’s as important you also take time to personally inspect your skin from head to toe regularly. Melanomas can develop anywhere on the body, including areas that do not get much sun exposure and can be easily missed during an exam. They can also be harder to spot on people with darker colored skin. One of the most famous examples of this involved the legendary Reggae artist, Bob Marley. Having died from melanoma in 1981, his cancer started on his toe. It simply cannot be stressed enough, if you notice changes to your skin, don’t write it off and have it checked as soon as possible. “Know Your Spots” and taking action will not only save your skin, but possibly your life as well.