Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, makes up about five percent of all skin cancer diagnoses. Anyone can develop skin cancer, but those with fair skin are at highest risk. The best protection is to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you must be in the sun, cover up with clothing, apply sunscreen, and wear sunglasses.
Become familiar with your skin. Know the differences between common moles and those that are at risk for developing melanoma. About 10 percent of all people have at least one atypical mole, which indicates a higher risk for developing melanoma. A procedure called “mole mapping” is recommended for people with fair skin, large numbers of normal or atypical moles, or a family history of melanoma.
Mole mapping uses full-body medical photographs to monitor changes in existing moles and find new lesions that could be melanomas. The photos are used by the patient and referring physician as a baseline to help spot any changes that may occur, assisting in earlier diagnosis of melanoma. Mole mapping is available at St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute, by physician referral. To learn more about the benefits of this potentially life-saving service, talk with your dermatologist or family doctor.
The ABCDEs of Moles and Melanoma
Moles, brown spots, and growths on the skin are usually harmless – but not always. People with more than 100 moles are at greater risk for melanoma. The first signs can appear in one or more of these moles. Get to know your skin: Examine your entire body once a month and have a physician check your skin once a year.
If you draw a line through this mole, the two halves will not match, meaning it is asymmetrical – a warning sign for melanoma.
The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.
Having a variety of colors, such as a number of different shades of brown, tan, or black. A melanoma may also become white, red, or blue.
Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the size of a pencil eraser (1/4 inch), but may be smaller when first detected.
Any change – in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching, or crusting – points to danger.
If you detect any of these warning signs, see a doctor who specializes in skin cancer and is trained to recognize a melanoma at its earliest stage. For a physician referral, Call St. Luke’s at 381-9000.