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ABCs of Skin Cancer for Sun Lovers, from a Dermatologist

Maybe you like to swim, to surf, to jog, to golf, or to run? Maybe you like to be outdoors or you’re a sun lover?

Then you need to come to know the A, B, Cs of skin cancer. Why? Because one American dies every every 54 minutes from a type of skin cancer called melanoma which should be visible to the naked eye, so it should be detectable early, when it can be effectively treated by a minor outpatient surgery. Don’t become a statistic.

So what are the A, B, Cs, D, and E’s? They’re simple rules of thumb first described by Drs. Al Kopf and Darrel Rigel that Dermatologists like me use to judge whether a skin growth is significant, might be skin cancer, and needs removal. Let’s take a look:

A stands for asymmetry: you can’t fold one half of the growth over the other side, and have it match. Check out the asymmetry of the melanoma below:

B stands for border irregularity: the edge or border of the growth is not a smooth line, like the coast of Florida, but more jagged, like the coast of Maine.

C stands for color irregularity (different shades of brown, gray, or black), or color out of step with a person’s other moles, or dark color. Check out the different shades of brown in the mleanoma below:

D stands for diameter – distance across the lesion – that’s enlarging. If the growth gets larger than a number 2 pencil eraser, that’s the D warning sign.

E stands for an evolving or changing lesion. Note that the melanoma below is more subtle. A helpful clue would be that It would probably be changing or evolving over time.

It’s normal to develop between 5 and 35 moles between the ages of 5 and 35. Melanoma however is a malignancy of the pigment-producing cells arising either in sun-damaged skin, or in a preexisting mole.

Highest risk people for melanoma are blond and red-heads, and people who freckle or blister in the sun. But everyone is at risk.

So now’s a great time for your own mole patrol inspection on your whole family: get them undressed, naked, and check out their moles. Remember that melanoma can occur on any part of the body, but the most common locations for men are the back and chest, and for women on the legs.

Melanoma can develop in kids too! My own youngest patient was only 10 years old.

So start doing monthly mole inspections, for your full family and friends, looking for new, changing, or atypical moles.

If you do find a growth that meets one or more of the A, B, C, D, Es, get in to see a Board-certified Dermatologist right away. Find one of us by going to the American Academy of Dermatology web site,, then plug your zip code into the “Find a Dermatologist” tab.

For more, check out a Youtube movie sponsored by “Understanding the Melanoma Crisis: Scarlet’s Story.” The good news? Early detection saves lives.

George Woodbury Jr. M.D.

Dermatologist with Rheumatology and Dermatology (

And President of Big River silk Skincare (

8143 Walnut Grove Road

Cordova TN 38018 1-901-753-0168

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