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What You Need to Know About Skin Cancer&Melanoma: From a Dermatologist

With all the focus on the current COVID-19 Pandemic, remember that we’re also facing a Skin Cancer Epidemic, a problem that I deal with on a daily basis, as a Board-certified Memphis Dermatologist. Let’s take a look at the most common types of Skin Cancer, how they’re detected and managed, and why early detection matters.

We Dermatologists used to teach patients that there were about 2700 yearly deaths from Skin Cancer including Melanoma, a number that we hoped would decline with better public education on the dangers of UV exposure including the dangers of tanning salon bulb exposure. But that yearly number of Skin Cancer fatalities actually increased from the early 1990s, when I started practicing Dermatology, from 2700 people per year to 4700 people, to 6700 then over 9000 people. If you count Melanoma fatalities, Basal Cell Skin Cancer Fatalities, and Squamous Cell Carcinoma fatalities, the current yearly fatality rate is over 20,000 people, meaning we really are in a Skin Cancer Epidemic.

Above: an image of the "lentigo maligna" type of melanoma, on a person's forehead.

What is meant by the word “Skin Cancer,” and “Melanoma?”

A Cancer is a harmful or “malignant” growth that starts out the size of a single cell, one that multiplies to a growth that’s visible to the eye. Skin Cancer is the most common type of Cancer in the body, affecting one in five Americans by the age of 70. The most common types are Basal Cell Skin Cancer, Squamous Cell Skin Cancer, and Melanoma, but there are over 40 additional types, including Cutaneous T-cell Lymphoma, also called Mycosis Fungoides.

Above is an image of a nodular Melanoma. Note the different shades of brown, with the asymmetry of this lesion, and the irregular border.

Skin Cancer can affect people with all skin types, from the very fair complected to the darkly, swarthy complected peoples of the world. It can also arise from normal skin, or sun-damaged skin, or even from a type of normal or ‘benign’ mole that has become malignant over time.

We Dermatologists teach patients to watch for certain warning signs of skin cancer, the A, B, C, D, E’s, first describe by Drs. Darrell Rigel and Al Kopf of the New York University Department of Dermatology:

Look for 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. because if caught early, an “excision," or removal under local anesthetic is often curative. If the lesion turns out to be a precancerous lesion – such as a high-risk atypical mole – or a full-fledged Basal Cell Skin Cancer or Squamous Cell Skin Cancer - we try to ensure that the lesion is completely out – with a “reexcision.”