Melanoma Monday+What to Watch For in Skin Cancer
George Woodbury Jr. M.D. - Board-certified Memphis Dermatologist 05/03/2021
Dermatologists like myself have long known many lives are saved could be saved from Melanoma if we regularly inspect our family members for growths or moles that have changed color, size, or shape. Let’s take a look at what you look for, when you do your own “mole patrol” at home.
Melanoma is a type of cancer or malignancy – a skin growth that has become malignant or “gone sour” from prior Ultraviolet light exposure from the sun or from tanning bulb exposure. Knowing about Melanoma is really important, because over 9000 Americans lose their lives every year due to not attending to suspicious growths or moles which end up being Melanoma. That’s why the American Academy of Dermatology has designed today as “Melanoma Monday.”
Let’s look at what makes a good skin inspection. I’m talking about your doing a complete exam: getting your family members into bathing suits, and looking them over completely, including in the scalp and behind the ears, and on the bottoms of their feet: Melanoma occurs on any part of the body, not just traditionally sun-exposed areas.
We’re also talking about your inspecting the whole family, including kids, because kids can also develop Melanoma. Remember that the median age for Melanoma is about 52 years old, meaning that half of all cases occur in people younger than 52, sometimes even in people in their teens, twenties, and thirties.
Remember 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! The Reggae musician Bob Marley actually died of melanoma at the age of 25, due to a growth of his foot.
What features of a mole or skin growth cause higher concern?
We Dermatologists teach patients to look for the A, B, C, D, E warning signs of Skin Cancer, including Melanoma, first identified by Dr. Al Kopf and Dr. Darrell Rigel 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.
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.
Below is a classic image of a melanoma, with a dark color and irregular margins:
We know what action to 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 an atypical mole – or a full-fledged skin cancer - the dermatopathologist will