The month of May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Dr. Bailey and our team at DrBaileySkinCare.com, along with skin cancer advocacy organizations such as The American Academy of Dermatology, are on a mission to help you avoid serious skin cancer. We are all working hard to get the word out about how to spot skin cancer.
We want to help you become aware of and recognize the early signs of skin cancer. After all, you know your body best and have the best chance to identify any worrisome changes between your doctor’s visits. Anyone can develop skin cancer, including the most serious form called melanoma. Certain people are at greater risk for melanoma, including those with fair skin, people who have had a lot of unprotected sun exposure, or those who have a family history of melanoma. If you, your family members, or close friends fall into any of these categories, it is even more imperative that you are well informed how to spot melanoma. Early identification of melanoma saves lives!
The American Academy of Dermatology’s theme for this year’s Skin Cancer Awareness Month is “Who’s Got Your Back?” We love it and think it’s brilliant because:
1. The back is a hard to reach spot for sunscreen application and often is neglected or inadequately protected. When was your last back sunburn?
2. No one can really see their own back, so you need a plan to ask for help. Is it your doctor or your spouse … or whom? Do you know that many times it’s the spouse that first detects a melanoma on someone’s back. Know the signs. We will cover more of the specifics for the “Who’s Got Your Back?” campaign later this month, so stay tuned.
What Is Melanoma?
First and foremost, you have to know what melanoma is in order to identify it or prevent it. Melanoma occurs when damaged DNA in your skin cells, specifically melanocytes (skin pigment producers), leads to uncontrolled cell growth resulting in a tumor. It can happen where a mole previously existed or it can happen on an area of skin that did not have a mole because you have melanocytes everywhere in your skin. UV radiation has the capability to damage the DNA in the melanocyte and that can lead to melanoma. This is why Dr. Bailey always stresses sun protection, including wearing broad spectrum sunblock on exposed skin everyday, year round!!!
The reason why melanoma is so dangerous compared to other skin cancers is due to its ability to spread throughout the body, also known as systemic invasion. It spreads through both the lymphatic (immune channels) and vascular (blood) systems, serving a double whammy of body infiltration. The cancerous growth can eventually spread (metastasize) into other important and vital organs such as lungs, brain, etc. Once this happens recurrence is unpredictable. Melanoma is nothing to scoff at and should be taken very seriously!
When to See Your Dermatologist for Melanoma
Essentially, you should schedule an appointment with your dermatologist if you ever suspect that one of the moles on your body may be melanoma. How to identify a possible melanoma is to know the 5 signs, or “ABCDE’s of Melanoma.”
- A: Asymmetry
- This refers to when two halves of the mole are not mirrors, meaning they are irregularly shaped, not round or oval.
- B: Border
- A melanoma sign is When the edges of the mole are irregular: jagged, poor-defined margins (blends into the skin), notched, or scalloped.
- C: Color
- Be wary when the coloration throughout a mole is not uniform (varies).
- D: Diameter
- Check to see if the diameter of a mole is greater than 6 mm (which is approximately the size of a pencil eraser).
- Know, however, that you may identify melanomas smaller than 6 mm.
- E: Evolving over Time
- Track if the mole is raised or not flush with your skin.
- Also watch to see if the mole appears to change over time in one of the other domains, such as growing larger in size or darker in color.
If one of your moles is showing even one of the above signs, you should schedule an appointment with your dermatologist, especially if you are part of the high risk groups. In fact, this month the American Academy of Dermatology can help you locate free skin screenings in your area. Click the link here, and select the state in which you live on the map and look at the list below to see if one is near you.
Also, the AAD have a ton of free resources for you and your community, including great infographics and educational handouts. Get dermatologist-created advice and information on how to perform self skin exams, statistics, and how to select sunscreen.
Melanoma Identification Practice
Here is an example of how to identify melanoma using the “ABCDE’s.”
- A: Not perfectly oval
- B: Poorly defined margins, some margins are very dark, while others are fairly light and blend into the skin
- C: Coloration not uniform, dark red in some ares, lighter in others. White area in the center as well.
- D: Diameter not given and unable to measure from photo
- E: Elevation noted in the center with possible scab indicating possible bleeding. No information how this evolved over time.
- A: Very asymmetrical, no clear shape, non-rounded
- B: Border clearly defined but ragged and somewhat scalloped in areas
- C: Distinct color variations. A dark reddish-purple border outlines the mole with a white center, paler than regular skin tone
- D: Diameter not given and unable to measure from photo
- E: Dark border appears slightly elevated, irregular and texturized, unable to assess evolution over time
Pop Quiz Time: How Do You Prevent Melanoma?
WEAR BROAD SPECTRUM SUNSCREEN!!! Wearing sunscreen is the most convenient method to prevent your skin from absorbing harmful UV rays. Dr. Bailey prefers sunscreens that contain physical blockers such as zinc oxides. Read Dr. Bailey’s informative sunscreen guide and choose the sunscreen that best suits your skin and needs. Be an advocate for yourself and family for skin safety! Not only will your skin look healthy, but your skin will look younger as well!
If you have found these tips about when you should see your dermatologist for melanoma helpful, please share, “like,” Google+, tweet, and “pin the infographics” using the social sharing buttons above and below this blog post. Share with friends and family and everybody wins.
Photo Thanks and Gratitude to: National Cancer Institute, Larry Meyer and © Andrew Plewes/ImageZoo/Corbis