The ABCDE’s of Identifying Melanoma

The best way to beat skin cancer is to prevent it! One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Though the majority of skin cancers are now highly curable, melanoma, the most serious form, claims one person every hour. Melanoma develops with the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells. It can appear suddenly or develop on an existing mole. Self-examination and dermatologist visits are vital to early detection. But how do you know if something is not right? Follow the ABCDE guidelines below for more information:

  • Asymmetry: Is the shape of the lesion symmetrical? With melanoma, one half is usually unlike the other half.
  • Border: Is the border irregular? Benign moles typically have smooth, even borders, while cancerous ones are scalloped or poorly defined.
  • Color: Is more than one color present? Look for shades of tan, brown, black, varied, or uneven color.
  • Diameter: Melanomas are usually greater than six millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser).
  • Evolution: This is the most important factor to consider. By knowing what is normal for you, it’s easier to determine if your mole has changed over time, or looks different from the rest.

If you have noticed any of the above, alert your dermatologist immediately! Since skin cancer is so common, it’s important to be aware of the causes and risk factors, as well as prevention guidelines. Increased risk of melanoma includes the following factors:

  • UV Exposure: Both UVA and UVB rays are dangerous to the skin, and can trigger skin cancer. Exposure to sunlight is not the only concern, as tanning bed use also raises your risk.
  • Moles: Most moles are normal, but it’s important to watch for unusual ones. The more moles you have, the greater your risk for melanoma.
  • Skin Type: Fair-skinned people are at a disadvantage here, as they have an increased risk for all skin cancers.
  • Personal and Family History: If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer before, there’s a higher likelihood of getting it again. Genetics also play a large role. About 10% of patients diagnosed also have a family member with a history of melanoma.
  • Weakened Immune System: People with compromised immune systems (like organ transplant patients) can have an increased risk of melanoma.

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