Melanoma: Learn Your ABC's of Skin Health

What is Melanoma?

  • Melanoma is a can­cer of the melanocytes, which are the pig­ment-pro­duc­ing cells of the skin.
  • It most com­mon­ly occurs on the skin; how­ev­er, may also be found in the eyes, ears, GI tract, cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem, and the oral and gen­i­tal mucous membranes.
  • Melanoma is the most com­mon can­cer in women aged 25 – 29 years and is sec­ond only to breast can­cer in women aged 30 – 34 years.
  • This can­cer is more like­ly to occur on areas that are less often exposed and more fre­quent­ly burned, such as the backs of men and the legs of women.
  • It can be fatal if it is neglect­ed; there­fore, ear­ly detec­tion and prompt removal of melanoma can save a life.

What are the risk factors?

  • If you are old­er than 20 years of age, espe­cial­ly if you are over 60
  • Fair com­plex­ion, inabil­i­ty to tan, and a his­to­ry of sun­burns, espe­cial­ly blis­ter­ing sunburns
  • Numer­ous moles, chang­ing moles, or a his­to­ry of atyp­i­cal moles
  • A per­son­al or fam­i­ly his­to­ry of Melanoma (first-degree relative)

Where to Look for Skin Cancer

  • White women: Low­er legs, upper back, arms, head, and neck
  • White men: Upper back, chest, abdomen, arms, head and neck
  • Skin of col­or: Rare in patients with dark­er skin tones; how­ev­er, it can arise on the palms, soles and nails

Warn­ing Signs of Melanoma

  • New, chang­ing, or unusu­al moles (Most moles appear by age 30, but adults can devel­op new ones through­out adulthood)
  • Moles that become symp­to­matic (itch­ing, burn­ing, painful)
  • An ini­tial slow hor­i­zon­tal growth phase (the mole appears to grow wider on the skin’s sur­face). If untreat­ed, this will be fol­lowed by a ver­ti­cal growth phase which indi­cates inva­sive dis­ease with poten­tial metastasis. 
  • Prog­no­sis is based on the thick­ness of the tumor

Per­form a Month­ly Self Skin Examination

  • Check your­self, or have your part­ner check your skin on a month­ly basis
  • See your der­ma­tol­o­gist and report any lesion that has changed from your pre­vi­ous appoint­ment or is bleed­ing or not heal­ing, espe­cial­ly if it lasts longer than one month. 
  • Apply broad-spec­trum SPF 30 or greater to all exposed areas of skin dai­ly. Reap­ply every 90 – 120 min­utes when out­side. Wear hats, sun­glass­es, Ultra­vi­o­let Pro­tec­tion Fac­tor (UPF) cloth­ing, etc. 
  • Look for the ABCDEs of melanoma (list­ed below)

ABCDEs of melanoma detection

A” is for Asym­me­try- A mole in which one half does not match the other

B” is for irreg­u­lar Bor­ders- A mole with a scal­loped or poor­ly defined borders

C” is for Col­or — A mole that con­sists of mul­ti­ple shades of black, brown, white, red, and/​or blue

D” is for Diam­e­ter — A mole that has a diam­e­ter larg­er than that of a pen­cil eras­er (approx­i­mate­ly 6mm)

E” is for Evo­lu­tion — A mole whose size, shape or col­or changes over time. Evo­lu­tion is the sin­gle most impor­tant ABCDE you can look for dur­ing an at home self-skin exam­i­na­tions. Noti­fy your der­ma­tol­o­gist for any mole you believe has been evolv­ing or changing. 

If you are due for your annu­al skin exam or have a sus­pi­cious mole, sched­ule an appoint­ment online with a der­ma­tol­o­gist near you with one of our dermatologists.

Annu­al full body skin exams are now cov­ered as a pre­ven­ta­tive exam by most com­mer­cial insur­ance com­pa­nies. Cost varies based on your insur­ance coverage.*

*Medicare and Med­ic­aid are excluded

Health Topics:

  • Tahmina Mahmood, MD, Itasca Dermatologist

    At a young age, we were all taught the Golden Rule - the principle of treating others as one wants to be treated - and this is how I strive to provide care for my patients. I am a "people person", and thoroughly enjoy getting to know and build genuine relationships with my patients. I hope this allows patients to feel comfortable during their visit and continue trusting me with their care. I look forward to seeing you and helping you feel more confident about your skin!