Anyone can be at risk of developing skin cancer, the most common type of cancer. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that makes up 1% of all skin cancers, but accounts for the majority of skin cancer deaths.
Regular screenings with your dermatologist can significantly increase your chances of catching melanoma early. Knowing what to look for can also help you spot potential cancer. Below, Maulik Dhandha, MD, a dermatologist with Dignity Health Woodland Clinic shares signs you should look for.
Look for the ABCDEs of melanoma
Dr. Dhandha says that about 50% of melanoma cases are self-detected. “It is best to monitor your skin lesions, and seek prompt evaluation by your doctor if you notice any of the signs of melanoma,” says Dr. Dhadha.
When conducting a self-inspection, look for spots or moles that exhibit the ABCDEs of melanoma:
- A is for asymmetry: Half of the spot differs from the other half.
- B is for border: The spot has an irregular or poorly defined border.
- C is for color: The spot varies in color from one area to the next.
- D is for diameter: The spot is larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
- E is for evolving: The spot is changing in size, shape or color over time.
“A new spot, or a spot that is different from the other spots, or a spot that is changing, itchy or bleeding should be checked by your dermatologist,” says Dr. Dhandha.
Who is at risk of melanoma?
Anyone can get melanoma, but there are certain characteristics that put people at a higher risk including:
- Having more than 50 - 75 moles
- “Atypical looking” moles that vary in shape or color, or have moles larger than 6 millimeters in diameter
- People who are immunocompromised or take medications that can weaken the immune system
- People who sunburn easily, especially those with natural blonde or red hair, light colored eyes, or freckles
- A personal or family history of melanoma
- A history of sunburns or tanning bed use
Taking steps to protect your skin from the sun can significantly decrease your chances of getting melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Dr. Dhandha recommends using a sunscreen formula of SPF30 regularly, applying at least one full ounce to the entire body 30 minutes prior to going outside. Additionally, wearing broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses will protect your head and eyes.
Tanning beds can severely damage skin through UVA and UVB rays and should be avoided. Similarly, you should avoid the use of tanning oils when in the sun.
How often should you get checked for skin cancer?
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people regularly conduct skin self-exams. When a new or changing lesion is noticed, they should consult their primary care doctor, or dermatologist. People with a personal history of skin cancer, or a high risk of skin cancer can benefit from annual screenings.
Early detection is critical and learning what to look for on your own skin gives you the power to seek treatment early on. If you see a mole or a patch of skin that has changed in color, shape or size, contact your doctor immediately. If you have any concerns about the appearance of a skin spot or mole, make an appointment to consult with your doctor.