The ABCDEs of Melanoma

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Melanoma is an uncommon but serious form of skin cancer. It presents itself as a growth on the skin when damaged DNA begins to trigger mutations in the melanocytes, or cells that produce pigmentation. Melanomas are most often caused by overexposure to UV light, either through tanning beds or natural sunlight.

A melanoma resembles a mole or bruise. The spot is often dark brown or black, but it can be pink, purple, blue, or even white. Despite the rather benign appearance, a melanoma can be deadly. The cancerous melanocytes can cause mutations in lower levels of the skin, allowing the cancer to spread to other parts of the body. This makes advanced stages of this skin cancer extremely difficult to treat. The rate of melanoma diagnoses has been on the rise since the late 1980s. The American Cancer Society predicts that nearly 74,000 people will develop melanomas in 2015, and approximately 10,000 people die from complications associated with melanoma.

If caught early in its development, a melanoma can be safely removed. An important part of skin cancer prevention is remembering that early detection increases the chances that the skin cancer can be addressed. The chances of survival when an early-stage melanoma is diagnosed and treated quickly is around 95 percent. Fortunately, melanomas are relatively easy to detect. As part of your skin cancer prevention routine, when you see a suspicious looking mole or bruise on your or a loved one’s body, remember the ABCDEs – Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolution. This can help you decide whether or not the spot is cancerous.

A – Asymmetry

While moles and bruises often have a round or symmetrical shape, melanoma lesions are generally asymmetrical.

B – Border

Moles and bruises tend to be, if not perfectly round, very smooth and even. Melanomas have irregular, bumpy-looking borders.

C – Color

The color is very important when diagnosing a melanoma. If you see more than one color – black, brown, pink, tan, blue – or the colors are splotchy or unevenly distributed colors, this could mean that the mark is a melanoma. Skin cancer will cause the mark to change colors or develop colors unevenly.

D – Diameter

While moles tend to be relatively small, melanomas can be bigger. If the spot is wider than 6mm, about the width of a pencil eraser, it is possible that the spot is a melanoma.

E – Evolution

When considering if a spot is caused by skin cancer, the history of the spot is an important consideration. Everyone’s body is different, and, so, will react differently to the spread of cancerous cells. If a spot has changed considerably in appearance or composition over a period of time, this can be a strong indicator that it is a melanoma.

The only accurate way to diagnose skin cancer is by having a biopsy performed. In this procedure, your dermatologist removes a layer or layers of skin with a blade or a punch tool, and then sends the skin sample to a lab, where it is subjected to tests. The test results will be able to give the most information about your suspected melanoma. But these ABCDEs are a great way to approach suspicious spots before consulting with your doctor as part of a developed skin cancer prevention routine.

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