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Melanoma: 5 rules for lifesaving early detection

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than two million people are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer each year, often with more than one type of skin cancer. The most deadly of these is melanoma, often masquerading as an odd mole or dark patch of skin until it spreads rampantly throughout the lymphatic system of the body. Now more than ever, learning to recognize melanoma is important, and could mean the difference between life and death.

The "ABCDE" rule is an easy way to remember what the signs of melanoma are.
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Get the jump on melanoma - know the signs
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Thanks to our love affair with sun-kissed skin and Baywatch bodies, cases of melanoma have been increasing over the last 30 years in America. Although the average age at melanoma diagnosis is 61, more and more cases of melanoma are documented in Americans as young as 30 years of age or younger. It most often appears on the torso, but can manifest anywhere on the body, even if the area has not been exposed to the sun or been sunburned in the past. Caucasians have ten times the risk of skin cancer, however melanoma can affect anyone, regardless of skin color. UV exposure increases the risk of all skin cancers considerably; tanning beds are to be the primary culprit for melanoma for people under the age of 30, increasing the risk of melanoma by 75 percent.

Chances of developing melanoma can be considerably reduced by wearing protective clothing to block the sun's UV rays, using sunscreen, and wearing sunglasses (which also reduces the chance of developing cataracts).

As with all cancers, the best chances for surviving melanoma is early detection. Use the “ABCDE” guidelines below to determine if a skin growth is suspicious, and see your dermatologist immediately.

  • A – Asymmetry. Do the sides of the spot look like a mirror image? Melanomas tend to be irregular is shape, and not perfectly symmetrical.
  • B – Border. The edges of melanomas usually have uneven, crusty, or notched borders.
  • C – Color. Moles have uniform, consistent color. Melanomas are known for being dark (because of the pigmentation cells, melanocytes, in the skin) but uneven color, especially white, blue or brown, can also be a sign of melanoma.
  • D – Diameter. Although melanomas can start out small, they usually are larger than a pencil eraser, and grow in size.
  • E – Evolving. Moles stay the same size throughout your life, whereas melanomas grow and evolve. If that dark spot is getting bigger, get to your physician!

Moles, due to their pigmentation and cell structure, should be watched for unusual growth, expansion, or change in the tissue. If you think you have any of the symptoms of melanoma or any form of skin cancer, contact your dermatologist for an examination. It may be your best chance to survive this sneaky cancer before it's too late.

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