When we were kids, the ABCs were the first and most important lesson. And now we need to learn them again, but this time, they can save your life. Ever heard of the ABCDE’s of skin cancer detection? Although it’s a scary prospect, we need to know what to look for when it comes to detecting potentially cancerous moles which can appear anywhere on the body. Malignant melanoma is 100% curable—if caught early.
At present, there is a higher incidence of melanoma than ever before, which is thought to be due in part, to the thinning ozone layer. Each year, over 1 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States. It is the most common cancer diagnosed in America today—and can be one of the most curable if caught early. It is also perhaps THE most preventable form of cancer.
Taking precautionary measures against the sun, avoiding tanning beds, as well as following the ABCDE’s, can drastically reduce the incidence of melanoma, or aid in early detection. Everyone can take steps to avoid melanoma by protecting the skin from the sun through the use of a sunscreen containing an SPF 30 or higher. Surprisingly, a tan is the body’s defense mechanism against ultraviolet light. Even those who tan rather than burn are at risk. People are also misguided regarding the use of tanning beds. Although the light emitted from the bulb are UVA rays rather than the UVB rays more commonly associated with burning, the UVA rays penetrate deeper in the skin and cause premature aging and wrinkling.
Keep in mind that a suspicious growth does not always signal melanoma. It could be a basal cell skin cancer, a squamous cell, or a dysplastic mole. Some dermatologists consider benign dysplastic moles as precursors to malignant melanoma. If you’re not sure, check.
All it takes is remembering the alphabet and checking your skin for warning signs. Here’s how to stay on your game.
THE ABCDE’s of CHECKING FOR MELANOMA
A-Asymmetry. One side does not match the other side of the mole if you were to draw a line in the middle of the lesion. B-Border Irregularity. If the perimeter of the mole is jagged and irregular rather than smooth. C-Colour Variation. Bad colours are the flag colors—red, white and blue. Also black. Also more than one colour in the mole is a warning sign. Light brown or medium brown for the whole mole is usually normal. D-Diameter. Smaller than the size of a pencil eraser is usually a good sign, but not always. If the mole has other warning signs, but is small, still see your doctor. E-Evolving. The mole is changing in any way-itchy, bleeding, growing, irritated, painful, changing colour. Patients often find their own skin cancers and save their own lives by bringing evolving moles to their doctors attention. HOW TO CHECK YOUR SKIN
1. No matter your skin type or family’s medical history, everyone should conduct a thorough, full body self skin exam to check for the presence of irregular moles. Do this check yourself at least every few months and get a dermatologist to check at least once a year.
2. Check underneath the arms, around the genitalia, on the legs, feet, and even between the toes. Many people mistakenly think that if an area such as between the toes are not exposed to the sun, then they are not at risk for melanoma. This is absolutely false.
3. Keep in mind that because melanoma can also be genetically determined, it sometimes occurring in non-sun exposed areas. In darker skinned patients, it is more likely that the skin cancer will be on the hands and feet.
Rebecca Baxt is a Board Certified Dermatologist. She is a nationally recognized certified Allergan Botox, Juvederm and Voluma trainer, and was part of the Voluma launch faculty in 2013.
Mole Photos: Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation