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Melanoma Tips From A Memphis Dermatologist

George Woodbury MD 1/4/2023

Skin Cancer, including Melanoma, takes the lives of upwards of 20,000 Americans annually. That’s one person every 24 minutes. The good news is that early detection leads to early treatment, saving lives. The most dangerous type of Skin Cancer is Melanoma, so let’s look at Melanoma tips and features that Dermatologists like myself use to diagnose and treat this type of Skin Cancer early.

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First, you’ve got to look to detect Skin Cancer. Dermatologists like myself have long known that many lives are saved by a concerned family member who inspects loved ones, detecting a changing growth or mole, and getting the patient to prompt medical attention. So, to spot a suspicious growth early, you do need to get your family members pretty much naked, regularly, for a home inspection, because Skin Cancer can occur on all parts of the body.

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Years ago, we Dermatologists thought that certain people were “high risk” for Skin Cancer, including Melanoma: redheads, blonds, those who freckle easily, or those who love the sun or have a history of severe sunburns. “Low risk” people were those who routinely wear sunscreen, avoid the sun and tanning salon bulbs, or who tan easily. But we now realize that really everyone’s at risk of skin cancer. In fact, African-Americans tend to be diagnosed much later, leading to a higher fatality rate! Below is an actual Melanoma.

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Be aware that Skin Cancer, including Melanoma, affects more than just senior citizens. In fact, the median age for the development of Melanoma is 52 years old! That means that half of the cases occur in people younger than 52. Don’t forget to inspect your kids. Data shows that several thousand people under the age of 20 develop Melanoma in the U.S. each year, including several hundred even below the age of 12.

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So, what do you watch for? The patient in the forehead above has a characteristic Melanoma on his forehead. What features of growth or mole cause Dermatologists like myself to have a higher concern for Melanoma?

We look for what is called the A, B, C, D, and E warning signs, first described by Dr. Al Kopf and Dr. Daryl Rigel of New York University’s Department of Dermatology in the 1980s:
 

A stands for Asymmetry: one half of the lesion does not match the other half.

B stands for Border: a jagged border, perhaps like the coast of Maine, rather than of Florida.

C stands for Color change: different hues of brown or black within the lesion, or one mole that’s a darker color than the person’s other moles.

D stands for an increasing Diameter of the lesion

E stands for Evolving: if the lesion is changing, it’s best to bring it to the attention of a Dermatologist.

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We know what action Dermatologic Surgeons take for suspicious moles or growths: if caught early, generally a simple removal, or “excision” of the lesion under local anesthetic is curative. If the lesion turns out to be a precancerous lesion – such as a high-risk Atypical Mole – or a full-fledged Skin Cancer - we often try to ensure that the lesion is entirely out – by doing what’s called a “re-excision.”

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For over thirty years, my own Memphis Dermatology practice has been with Rheumatology and Dermatology Associates in Cordova, TN.
(1-901-753-0168; wwwRheumderm.com). Or you can find a Dermatologist close to you by going to the American Academy of Dermatology website, AAD.org, then simply plugging your zip code into the “Find a Dermatologist” tab.

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For more helpful tips and photos of melanoma, go to the Skin Cancer Foundation website: https://www.skincancer.org/

For more background on Melanoma, check out a short movie on Youtube sponsored by my own Memphis Dermatology practice: “Understanding the Melanoma Crisis: Scarlet’s Story.”

  So see spot. See spot change. See a Dermatologist!

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