Spotting Skin Cancer - from a Dermatologist;
Did you know that melanoma is a type of skin cancer that kills about 9300 Americans every year, and that it should be visible to simple inspection of the skin, allowing early detection, when it can be cured by a simple outpatient surgery?
Did you know that squamous cell skin cancer kills an additional 9000 Americans each year, and basal cell skin cancer kills about 2300? Do you know the nuts and bolts of spotting skin cancer? Let me share a couple of simple pointers about skin cancer with you, having practiced as a Board-certified Dermatologist for 29 years now.
First, let’s talk about the A, B, C, D, E’s, because these are rules of thumb first identified by Drs. Al Kopf and Darrell Rigel of New York University’s Dermatology Department to help people know what’s a significant lesion that needs to come to the attention of a Dermatologist right away:
A is for Asymmetry: one half of this mole does not match the other half.
B is for an irregular Border: jagged like the coast of Maine, rather than smooth like the coast of Florida.
C is for Color changes, or various colors (black, gray, brown), or different Color from the person’s other moles.
D is for a Diameter (distance across) the lesion that’s enlarging.
E is for Evolving or changing lesion.
The above lesion for instance - which is what's called a lentigo maligna melanoma - has the C warning sign - different colors - and the B warning sign - for an ill-defined border. It would be good to bring such lesions to the attention of a Dermatologist without delay.
Remember that the A, B, C, D, E’s are just rules of thumb, or warning signs. Many skin cancers might not actually meet multiple A, B, C, D, E warning signs. Don’t wait until a skin lesion is glaringly obvious before bringing the lesion to the attention of a Board-certified Dermatologist, because these lesions must be caught early to be curable.
So who’s at risk of skin cancer?
The real answer is everyone is at risk of skin cancer. This includes fair-complected people who freckle easily and have red hair to darkly-pigmented people like Asians or Africans.
In fact, Bob Marley was a talented Afro-Caribbean who died of a melanoma at the age of 36. His melanoma developed within a lesion on his foot. Unfortunately he did not get to medical attention until it had already spread throughout his body, and he died at the age of 36. But the highest risk individuals are those who freckle easily, tan poorly, or who have had one or more blistering sunburns in the past, or those who have been to tanning salons.
The above photo shows Scarlet Akins - who story is at the heart of "Understanding the Melanoma Crisis - Scarlet's Story," which became the crux of a movie that my own practice sponsored in 2018 – called “Understanding the Melanoma Crisis: Scarlet’s Story.” Scarlet was 26 years old and pregnant when she became aware of a growth on her knee. Check this movie out on Youtube’s Big River Silk Skincare channel.
The Skin Cancer Foundation also has excellent photos on its website, SCF.org.
The bottom line is that it’s a great idea for you to do your own full skin inspection of all of your family members, from babies to seniors. The youngest patient in my own practice with melanoma was only 10 years old at diagnosis. So don’t skip your kids! Furthermore, skin cancer can develop on any part of your body, so you need to inspect the scalp, the underarms, the groin, and the bottoms of the hands and feet. Remember that the most common location for men is on their back, and for women it’s on their legs. So get to know your family’s moles – because it’s normal for people to develop between 5 and 35 moles between the ages of 5 and 35.
And it’s a great idea to get a yearly mole checkup with a Board-certified Dermatologist. My own Dermatology practice is in Cordova, TN, with Rheumatology and Dermatology Associates, but there are over 12,600 of us in the United States. You can find a Dermatologist in your own neighborhood by going to the “Find a Dermatologist” tab on the American Academy of Dermatology web site (AAD.org).
Above is myself with Cathy Chapman MD, a Board-certified Rheumatologist and my wife of the last 32 years.
So don’t delay. Get checked today. It could save your life, or that of one of your family members.
George Woodbury Jr. M.D.