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Skin Cancer and Melanoma Detection – a Dermatologist’s Perspective;

Dermatologists like myself have long known that a large percentage of lives are saved from melanoma not by a nurse or doctor, but by a concerned family member who inspects his or her loved ones, and detects a mole that has changed. You could call this person the sentinel for changes in moles: just like a meerkat at the zoo, this person may detect a mole that has turned malignant or “gone sour” in a very early stage.

Years ago, we Dermatologists taught patients that certain people were at “high risk” of skin cancer, namely redheads and those who love the sun or have a history of severe sunburns. Certain people were considered “low risk:” those who wear sunscreen, avoid the sun and tanning salon bulbs, or who turn dark easily.

We now realize however that everyone’s at risk of skin cancer, from those with blue eyes and blond or red hair, and freckles, to those who are much more swarthy or of Asian or African descent. In fact, African-Americans tend to have skin cancer diagnosed much later, leading to a higher fatality rate!

So what features of a mole would cause higher concern?

Regular self-examinations of moles and growths might detect one of the A, B, C, D, E warning signs, first identified by Dr. Al Kopf of the Department of Dermatology at New York University in the 1980s:

A stands for Asymmetry: one half of the lesion does not match the other half. The melanoma below is asymmetric.

B stands for Border: a jagged border, perhaps like the coast of Maine, rather than of Florida. The melanoma below has an irregular border.

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. The melanoma below has different colors or hues of brown.

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.