Annual Exam & Knowing the ABCDEs of Melanoma are Life Savers

Annual Exam & Knowing the ABCDEs of Melanoma are Life Savers

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., and it’s estimated that one in five Americans (9,500 per day) will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. Skin cancer can affect anyone regardless of skin color.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and the number of people being diagnosed with it is rising. It can be triggered by repetitive UV light exposure or by inheriting certain genes.

When detected early, the survival rate is 99% but drops all the way to 15% in its more advanced stages.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma begins in the skin cells called melanocytes, which produce melanin which gives our skin color and causes it to tan.

Moles, which doctors also refer to as nevi, contain clusters of melanocytes. Melanoma often first appears like a new mole or growth on your skin, or it can form from a mole you were born with (congenital). Congenital nevi carry an increased risk of developing into malignant melanoma.


Physicians believe that exposure to UV radiation from the sun, tanning beds and lamps, are a leading cause of melanoma.

Areas of skin that are not exposed to sun or UV light can still develop melanomas. Genetic and environmental factors may also play a part in their development. As with all cancer, cells become damaged and begin to grow out of control, causing a cancerous mass.

Who is at risk?

Anyone of any skin color or from any ethnic background can develop Malignant Melanoma. A report from the National Cancer Institute appearing in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (JID) reveals a startling Malignant Melanoma trend among young Caucasian women born after 1960. It is unclear whether the increased incidence of Malignant Melanoma relates to the thinning of the ozone layer or increased exposure to natural sunlight or ultraviolet rays in tanning booths.

Anyone can get melanoma, however, people at increased risk include:

  1. Individuals with a light complexion (freckles), light hair color or red hair or with blue, green, or gray eyes
  2. Individuals with a history of a severe sunburn before age 20
  3. Individuals with a family history of Malignant Melanoma or other skin cancer
  4. Individuals with multiple nevi or atypical nevi
Normal Moles

Normal Moles

People commonly have many normal moles that may develop or change over time. These are usually:

  • uniform in color (tan, brown or black)
  • have distinct borders
  • are oval or round
  • are smaller than about ¼ inch (about the size of a pencil eraser).

Although certainly not all moles and growths become melanomas, here’s what you should know so you and your dermatologist can catch a potential melanoma early.

Unusual Moles

Unusual Moles

Skin cancers and melanomas vary in appearance, but often have characteristics that are different from “normal” moles. Following are the ABCDEs of Melanoma:

  • A = Asymmetrical Shape Moles that aren’t oval or round, or which have irregular shapes should be examined by your dermatologist.
  • B = Border Moles with irregular borders (not smooth) should be examined.
  • C = Changes in Color Remember, consistent tan, brown or black are normal mole colors. If you see changes in mole colors, or more than one color in a mole, have it examined by your dermatologist.
  • D = Diameter A changing diameter or growth of a mole larger than ¼ inch, or about the size of a pencil eraser, should be examined.
  • E = Evolving Changes to a mole over time, such as any of the above, or itchiness or bleeding of a mole should be examined.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If your ADCS dermatologist suspects a mole or growth might be cancerous, the first step is to obtain a biopsy, or sample of the cells for examination. The biopsy is sent to a dermatopathologist who examines it under a microscope. If it’s melanoma, the first-line treatment is to surgically remove it. If a melanoma has spread beyond the skin, treatment options may include one or more of the following: surgical removal of affected lymph nodes, chemotherapy, or radiation, biological or targeted medication therapy.


Decreasing the skin’s exposure to UV rays can decrease the risk of skin cancers. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily with at least an SPF 30 on any exposed skin and reapply. You cannot undo the UV damage already done to your skin, but you can help prevent additional damage from occurring.

During your Annual Total-Body Skin Cancer Examsm, your dermatology professional will check you for signs of suspicious moles or growths. If you suspect any mole or growth of being cancerous between screenings, immediately see your dermatologist because early diagnosis and removal of melanoma is crucial.

The Melanoma/Breast Cancer Link

The Melanoma/Breast Cancer Link

If you have had breast cancer, studies* show your risk of developing melanoma is up to 2.58-times greater than normal.

And women with melanoma have a 1.4-time greater chance of developing breast cancer.

Because of this melanoma/breast cancer link, both breast cancer and melanoma survivors should take extra preventative and early detection measures. These include regular self-exams of the skin and breasts, annual mammograms, and annual Total-Body Skin Cancer Exams by one of our highly trained dermatologists and dermatology providers.

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