One of the best things about being a dermatologist is the opportunity to help patients lead healthier lives. It’s a responsibility that practitioners take seriously, and that’s why we work hard to educate people about dangerous conditions like malignant melanoma. This form of skin cancer can be devastating, particularly when it isn’t diagnosed early. To facilitate getting the word out about the signs of skin cancer dermatologists rely on the ABCDE acronym to help people understand and identify the warning signs of malignant melanoma.
First, it’s important to understand what melanoma is and why melanoma detection is vital. The epidermis, or the outer layer of the skin, contains squamous and basal cells along with melanocytes. It’s the melanocytes that can turn into malignant melanoma. These cells are responsible for producing melanin, which is a pigment that gives skin its color. It’s also melanin that causes skin to darken with exposure to the sun. Moles are likewise the result of melanin production.
Sometimes it’s these moles, or nevi, that can become malignant melanoma. Tumors associated with melanoma are usually brown or black, but they can also appear red, pink or white. Skin cancer can happen anywhere on the body, but most frequently occurs on the chest, back or legs. While malignant melanoma is diagnosed more rarely than other forms of skin cancer, it’s also far more dangerous. Early detection is the key to successful treatment.
When malignant melanoma is not caught early it may spread to other parts of the body. Spreading marks the later stages of the disease. It’s at this point that malignant melanoma can become deadly.
The good news is that when malignant melanoma is caught early it’s virtually always treatable. Dermatologists typically recommend an annual mole check during which your practitioner can thoroughly review your nevi, looking for any changes or potential signs of skin cancer. However, the patient is probably the most important line of defense when it comes to melanoma detection. By performing regular self examinations, it’s possible for patients to spot skin cancer symptoms.
The ABCDE’s of Melanoma Detection
Performing self exams is probably easier than you think. To help you with the process, dermatologists have devised the ABCDE acronym. This useful tool lets you know what you’re looking for when performing a monthly self exam. Let’s break it down by individual letters:
A: This stands for asymmetry.
Some doctors say that if you could fold the mole in two, the halves would not be identical. Another way to think of it is to imagine a line bisecting the nevi. Once again, if the halves are not identical, then the mole is asymmetrical.
B: This letter refers to the border.
A border that is uneven, notched, scalloped or blurred may be one of the signs of skin cancer.
C: Color is denoted by this letter.
Malignant melanoma is rarely a single, uniform color. There may be a mix of brown and black with other colors as well. Blue, white and red have also been spotted in melanomas.
D: This letter refers to the diameter.
One of the signs of skin cancer may be a mole that is larger than the eraser on a pencil. However, smaller moles can also be a sign of trouble. If a mole is small but itches, bleeds or appears abnormal, it’s best to have it checked out.
E: This stands for evolving.
If you notice that a mole has changed in any aspect since your last monthly exam, then it’s probably time to visit your dermatologist. Similarly, if you locate a new mole, it’s best to have it reviewed.
Early Melanoma Detection
This ABCDE acronym can be effectively used to detect the early signs of cancer. By performing monthly self examinations, many people have been able to make early melanoma detection possible. This greatly increases their chances of having the condition successfully treated. When doing your exams be sure to check out easy to overlook spots like your feet, scalp and genitals. Malignant melanoma has been diagnosed in these areas.
Monthly self exams and visits with your dermatologist are essential, but so is following skin cancer prevention tips. Keep in mind that there is no way to guarantee that you won’t get melanoma. In fact, many people are genetically predisposed to the condition. If members of your family have battled it, then your risk factors are increased. This means that it’s even more important for you to follow skin cancer prevention tips.
Perhaps the most important skin cancer prevention tip relates to avoiding harmful UV rays. UV rays come from the sun and are also produced by tanning beds. This means that any kind of tanning is bad news for your skin and puts you at increased risk for being diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Wearing sunscreen is an absolute must, even on overcast, chilly days. Don’t forget to wear a hat, because this is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer from developing on your scalp. Even wearing sunglasses can help as they protect the delicate skin around your eyes.
If you’re going to be outside, make certain to reapply sunscreen every two hours. It’s also helpful if you can time your exposure so it happens during those hours when UV rays are less intense. Usually that means before 10 am and after 2 pm. Whenever possible, try to find shady areas to decrease your exposure even more.
Some cases of malignant melanoma are inevitable despite all the precautions that may be taken. This makes the condition seem particularly frightening. However, it’s important to be mindful of the fact that melanoma is highly treatable, especially when it’s caught early. Schedule a visit with your dermatologist to learn more about the ABCDE acronym and melanoma detection.