ABCs of Skin Cancer-from a Memphis Dermatologist
by George Woodbury Jr. M.D. 06/17/2022
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 about 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.
Remember that Skin Cancer - I mean Basal Cell Skin Cancer, Squamous Cell Skin Cancer, and Melanoma - affects people of all skin types - from the very fair Skin Type I individuals who freckle easily and burn readily - to the Skin Type VI individuals - dark African-Americans - who rarely burn. Remember that Bob Marley - the Reggae Singer - died of Melanoma that developed on his foot due to a lack of awareness of how dangerous Melanoma really is.
Below is an example of a Melanoma.
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, or 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.
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.
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.
Below is a classic example of a Melanoma. But we Dermatologic Surgeons don't like patients to wait until these lesions have become so far advanced!
Remember: 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. Even darkly-pigmented African-Americans. Remember that Bob Marley, a Regge musician, died of melanoma that developed on his toe, at the age of 35. Don’t let yourself or a family member become a statistic.
So now’s a great time for your own mole patrol inspection on your whole family, your own skin cancer screening: 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.
Below is an example of a pigmented lesion that should raise your suspicion. In fact, it ended up on biopsy by a Dermatologic Surgeon being a full-fledged Melanoma.
Melanoma can develop in kids too! My own youngest patient - in my Dermatology practice in Cordova TN - was only 10 years old! And remember that Skin Cancer affects all people, from the fair to the darkly pigmented.