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Spotting Skin Cancer and Melanoma Early: From a Dermatologist

Skin Cancer including Melanoma takes the lives of upwards of 20,000 Americans every year. That’s one person every 24 minutes. The good news is that early detection leads to early treatment, saving lives. Let’s take a look at tips and clues that Dermatologists like myself use to diagnose Skin Cancer early.

Years ago, we Dermatologists taught that certain people being high risk for skin cancer: redheads, blonds, those who freckle easily, or those who love the sun or who have a history of severe sunburns. “Low risk” people were those who routinely wear sunscreen, avoid the sun and tanning salon bulbs, or who tan easily. But we now realize that really everyone’s at risk of skin cancer. In fact, African-Americans tend to be diagnosed much later, leading to a higher fatality rate!

Be aware that Skin Cancer affects more than just senior citizens. In fact, the median age for development of Melanoma is 52 years old! That means that half of cases occur in people younger than 52. Don’t forget to inspect your kids. Data shows that several thousand people under the age of 20 develop Melanoma in the U.S. each year, including several hundred below the age of 12.

So what do you watch for? What features of a growth or mole cause higher concern?

Look for what we call the A, B, C, D, E warning signs:

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.

The person in the photo below has a Melanoma on his forehead. Note the different hues of dark brown pigment - and the assymetrical nature of this lesion:

Here's a closeup of this same Melanoma:

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 a high-risk atypical mole – or a full-fledged skin cancer - we often try to ensure that the lesion is completely out – by doing what’s called a “reexcision.”

My own practice these last 28 years is with Rheumatology and Dermatology Associates, in Cordova, TN (1-901-753-0168; You can find a Dermatologist close to you by going to the American Academy of Dermatology web site,, then simply plugging your zip code into the “Find a Dermatologist” tab.

For more helpful tips and photos of melanoma, go to the Skin Cancer Foundation website:

So see spot. See spot change. See a Dermatologist!

George Woodbury Jr. M.D.

8143 Walnut Grove Road

Cordova TN 38018




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