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Melanoma Skin Cancer and Dysplastic Nevus from a Memphis Dermatologist

by George Woodbury Jr. MD (05/22/2024)

Board-certified Dermatologists like myself continuously evaluate moles to determine whether or not they’re at high risk for future development of Skin Cancer, including Melanoma. Let’s take a look at key features that Dermatologists and Dermatologic Surgeons use to determine which moles promptly need to be removed for biopsy, to be tested by the Dermatopathology Lab, and what an Atypical Nevus or Dysplastic Nevus.  

Well, what is a mole?

A mole or nevus is a collection of pigment-producing cells in the skin: melanocytes. Melanocytes occur in the skin, protecting us from Ultraviolet Light (UV rays). The average person has between 5 and 35 moles, which generally develop between the ages of 5 and 35, though they can also be present at birth (in which case they’re called “congenital” nevi).

A Dysplastic Nevus or Atypical Mole can be a marker for a patient at high risk of Melanoma, generally presenting as a dark brown lesion with a raised center, similar to a fried egg in topography. It’s important to get a suspicious mole evaluated by a Board-certified Dermatologist right away, like from a Memphis Dermatologist like myself, through a Skin Cancer Screening.

Secondly, Nevi in and of themselves are not considered high risk. But some melanocytes, after exposure to Ultraviolet Light (UV rays) from the sun or from UV rays from tanning bulbs, become malignant, the first step towards Melanoma, a big health problem in the U.S., with over 190,000 Americans being diagnosed with Melanoma this year, about 9200 fatalities. That’s, unfortunately, about one person every hour from a lesion that should be detectable early and treatable!  The good news, however, is that if Melanoma is detected early, it is often very treatable by a minor outpatient procedure. Unfortunately, if detected late, Melanoma can compromise one’s health and well-being.

Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma are much more common than Melanoma, and they take about an equal number of lives to Melanoma every year, presenting as translucent or scabbed lesions or red lesions that enlarge. If caught early, these types of Skin Cancer can often be treated with Mohs Surgery or Mohs Micrographic Surgery, allowing the Dermatologist to evaluate the margins of the tissue at the time of surgery to check that they’re clear margins, often enabling a smaller scar.

So it’s helpful to review key features of high-risk lesions:

·        Important tip: I’ve diagnosed a number of patients with Melanoma in the 32 years that I’ve been in practice as a Cordova Dermatologist simply by spotting one mole that is different from the person’s other moles – maybe a different hue of brown or black, or with a different shape.

· High-risk moles also tend to exhibit one or more of the A, B, C, D, and E warning signs described by Dr. Darrell Rigel of Mount Sinai University in New York City:

·        A stands for Asymmetry: one half doesn’t match the other half.

·        B is for Border irregularity: perhaps jagged in profile.

·        C is for a Color that’s out of step with a person’s other moles, or a changing color, or maybe different hues of color, such as shades of black, gray, brown, or even red.

·        D, for both a dark mole or a mole with an enlarging Diameter (distance across), particularly larger than the head of a number 2 pencil.

·        E, for Evolving or changing.

And what about the concept of “high-risk” people for the development of skin cancer?

Remember that your risk of skin cancer is definitely higher if you have blond or red hair, are Northern European-descended, have a history of working or playing in the sun, or have at least one blistering sunburn.

Do remember, however, that many cases of Skin Cancer do arise in people with brown or black hair or people who avoid the sun, so we’re all at risk, even darkly-pigmented African-Americans: Afro-Caribbean performer Bob Marley, in fact, died of Melanoma in his mid-thirties.

Remember that not all skin growths are Skin Cancer. A Keloid or a Cyst can present in a similar fashion to Skin Cancer. The best first move is a consultation with a Board-certified Dermatologist for a Skin Cancer Screening, an especially high priority for people with skin lesions that could be cancerous. Check out “Understanding the Melanoma Crisis: Scarlet’s Story,’ a 2018 movie sponsored by my Dermatology practice:

My own Memphis Dermatology practice is in Cordova, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis, TN, with Rheumatology and Dermatology Associates (; 1-901-753-0168). Or you can find a “Best Dermatologist Near Me” or “Dermatologist Near Me” by going to the American Academy of Dermatology website, Then simply plug your zip code into the “Find a Dermatologist tab.”

Remember Benjamin Franklin’s maxim: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Early detection definitely saves lives. So you really need to go on mole patrol with your family members, perhaps regularly on the first day of each month, to look for changing lesions. The rule is: “See Spot. See Spot Change. See a Dermatologist.” 

George Woodbury Jr. M.D. (05/22/2024)

8143 Walnut Grove Road

Cordova TN 38018




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