How to Spot Melanoma
Staying Safe in the Sun
Summer is almost here, and while you may be focused on how to keep the kids active, it’s even more important to protect yourself and your family from Las Vegas’ hot, dry climate and its desert sun. Being “acclimated” to the blazing sun doesn’t make our skin resistant to its harmful UV rays.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, making this the perfect time to expand your skin cancer education and ensure that your family understands sun safety. It’s also an opportunity to start routine skin examinations. A careful inspection of yourself and other family members is the key to early detection of skin cancer and cancerous moles.
Not sure if you know what to do? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
Some skin safety methods are extremely well known and can help prevent sun damage and, more importantly, skin cancer: Use sunscreen; take cover with an umbrella; wear dark clothing, hats and sunglasses; and seek some shade. However, the Skin Cancer Foundation has an easy and helpful strategy for spotting the first signs of melanoma that you may not even know about! It’s called the ABCDEs of melanoma.
Melanoma to the Letter
Melanoma takes the lives of more than 10,000 Americans every year, but with early detection and treatment, it’s almost always curable. That’s why it’s imperative to routinely check for suspicious or changing moles — no matter how much sunscreen is worn when outside. How do we know what we’re looking for? After all, there’s a difference between safe, benign moles and potentially dangerous moles that show warning signs of melanoma. That’s where the ABCDEs of melanoma come in:
- A: Asymmetry — Benign moles are symmetrical. If a mole is not symmetrical, it may be melanoma.
- B: Border — Benign moles have smooth and even borders. If a mole has jagged or notched edges, it may be melanoma.
- C: Color — Most benign moles are made of a single color. If a mole has more than one color, it may be melanoma.
- D: Diameter — If a mole has a diameter larger than other moles (1/4 inch or wider), it may be melanoma.
- E: Evolving — Benign moles don’t change throughout the years. If a mole starts to evolve in size, shape, color, elevation, etc., it may be melanoma.
Causes of Skin Cancer
The most common type of cancer for people in the U.S. is skin cancer, with 9,500 Americans being diagnosed every day, equating to more than 3 million Americans with skin cancer each year. Approximately one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer at least once in their lifetime. All these statistics aside, skin cancer is among the most preventable and treatable types of cancer, making prevention and recognition techniques especially valuable.
Skin cancer occurs when DNA damage causes unrestrained growth of abnormal skin cells, ultimately forming malignant tumors. Most skin cancer cases are attributed to overexposure to sunlight or tanning beds, but X-ray overexposure, burn scars, human carcinogenic chemicals and genetics may also cause skin cancer. Every person is at risk for skin cancer, but those with light skin or a genetic predisposition have a higher risk.
Understanding the Different Types of Skin Cancer
There are many types of skin cancer, but the most common forms are:
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common type of skin cancer, which rarely spreads to other parts of the body and has a very low mortality rate.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common type of skin cancer, which may spread to other parts of the body and can be fatal.
- Melanoma, the most dangerous and deadliest type of skin cancer, which kills one American each hour. (The melanoma death rate is higher for Nevada residents than the national average.)
What Skin Cancer Looks Like
- BCCs often look like red patches, flesh-colored bumps, pink growths or open sores.
- SCCs most commonly look like scaly red patches, red firm bumps, open sores or warts. They also may crust or bleed.
Melanomas commonly look like moles, develop from moles or look like discolored splotches on the skin. They’re usually brown or black, but they can be a wide range of colors, including pink, red, blue or white.
There is no better time than now to instill a new family routine where skin examinations are performed on a regular basis. Now that you know what to look for, this step-by-step guide provided by the Skin Cancer Foundation will teach you how to perform self-exams and where to look on your family members’ bodies. Take pictures of suspicious moles or spots to help you keep track of potential changes, and if you notice any moles or skin discolorations that might be showing signs of skin cancer or melanoma, see a doctor as soon as possible.