By Dr Alan J. Parks
According to SkinCancer.org, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined. Over the past 3 decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
These are some pretty staggering statistics. The good news, however, is that skin cancer is one of the most treatable types of cancer. The reason for this is that it’s also the most easily recognizable.
Cancer.gov states that “a common mole is a growth on the skin that develops when pigment cells (melanocytes) grow in clusters. Most adults have between 10 and 40 common moles. These growths are usually found above the waist on areas exposed to the sun.”
A melanoma, on the other hand, is a cancerous tumor that looks like a mole, and these are the leading cause of skin cancer deaths. According to SkinCancer.org, melanoma accounts for less than 1% of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. The reason for this is because they can spread quickly throughout the body. Though very few moles actually become cancerous, some moles can turn into melanoma over time.
One of the best things you can do to prevent skin cancer is examine your skin regularly. Dermatologist Dr Alan Parks of DermWarehouse recommends doing self-checks of all your freckles and moles on a monthly basis. If you see any spots or moles that look out of the ordinary, be sure to make an appointment to see your dermatologist right away.
Dr Parks advises that you should learn the ABCDE’s of melanoma. These characteristics are used by dermatologists to classify melanomas. Dr Parks says, “Look for these signs: Asymmetry, irregular Borders, more than one or uneven distribution of Color, or a large (greater than 6 mm) Diameter, which is the size of a pencil eraser, and E is for evolving, meaning that the mole is changing.
Here’s a breakdown of what you should be looking for and how to detect abnormal moles:
Asymmetry: A normal mole will be a round or oval shape and will look the same pretty much all the way around. It will be symmetrical, or regular/balanced. If your mole is asymmetrical, meaning that it’s lopsided or uneven, it is time to see your doctor.
Borders: A normal mole will have smooth borders and a clear edge. If your mole has a blurred edge or if the borders are unclear, then it’s a sign that it may be a melanoma.
Color: In a normal mole, the color will be distributed evenly. Any mole should be a consistent color throughout. If you have a mole that is light throughout but much darker in one area, then it may be cancerous. Also, as far as color is concerned, anything darker than brown (such a black or dark blue) should be looked at, even if it doesn’t fit with any of the other criteria. Anything black, even if it’s only the size of a pinpoint, should be looked at.
Diameter: Most moles will be under 5 mm in size, or about a quarter of an inch. If you have a mole that looks very large (over 6 mm), then you should have it checked out. Even if everything else looks normal about the mole, size can be a good indicator of whether it is a melanoma.
Evolving: If you start seeing changes in your moles in terms of the shape, size, or color, this is a good sign that it could be cancerous.
May is Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, so join us in spreading awareness and make sure you’re doing self-checks on a regular basis. Most importantly, be sure to wear an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen on daily, as this is the best way to prevent melanoma and all skin cancers in the first place.
Dr Alan J. Parks is a board certified in dermatologist and founder of Dermwarehouse.com. Dr Parks is a recipient of the American Academy of Dermatology Community Service Award for skin cancer screening and the Edmund D. Lowney Teaching Award for teaching dermatology residents.