Skin cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer in the United States. It can present in all ethnicities and skin tones. Almost all skin cancers are found on skin exposed to sun, ultraviolet light, tanning lights, or sun lamps.
Most forms of skin cancer can be treated successfully when detected early. Unusual growths on the skin such as moles can serve as warning signs; therefore, paying attention to changes and abnormalities is crucial in early detection.
When observing changes in the skin, knowing what is considered ‘normal’ is vital. For example, a normal mole is solid and uniform in color, and can range from tan, brown, dark brown, or flesh colored. They are usually round or oval in shape with well-defined edges, and may be flat or raised. However, moles that have developed into skin cancer are sometimes irregularly shaped, scaly or have a variation in color.
The ABCDE rule can help you remember what to look for when checking your moles.
A for Asymmetry
If you fold the mole in half, does it look the same on both sides? If it looks the same on both sides, then it is symmetrical. If both sides look different, the mole is asymmetrical and should be monitored.
B for Border
Look at the border of the mole. Normal moles have a smooth edge. Moles of concern may have a blurry or jagged border.
C for Color
Note the original color of the mole. Has it changed by becoming darker, lost some color, or have multiple colors? (Note that some moles tend to darken during pregnancy or while taking birth controls pills.)
D for Diameter
How large is the mole? Moles that are bigger than 1/4 inch in diameter should be shown to your health care provider.
E for Evolving
Has the mole changed in shape, size, or color? If so, alert your primary care provider.
Doctors advise that you seek medical care if:
- Your mole changes size, especially if it grows very quickly or becomes larger than a pencil eraser (6mm).
- Your mole changes in color or develops more than one color.
- Your mole, or the skin near the mole, becomes painful, sore, red, or swollen.
- Your mole becomes scaly, sheds skin, oozes fluid, or bleeds.
- Your mole develops irregular borders.
- Your mole becomes hard or soft, or develops raised areas.
There are several steps you can take to protect your skin against cancer: Avoid the sun during peak hours, wear sunscreen (with an SPF of at least 30, reapplying every 2-3 hours) and wear sunglasses and protective clothing when spending long periods of time outdoors. Additionally, it is important to remember that ultraviolet radiation from artificial tanning beds is a known carcinogen. Using them can increase your risk of skin cancers such as melanoma by 59%, and even more with each use.
If you notice changes in your skin that are abnormal, it is important to speak with your doctor right away. Early detection is key when treating skin cancer.
If you have questions or concerns about unusual growths on your skin, you can schedule an appointment with a Family Medicine doctor at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center by calling, 718-206-6942.
Ambika Nath DO, Family Medicine