The thought of having skin cancer has probably crossed the mind of most people at some point in their lives. With that being said, I thought it would be a good idea to kick off the blog with a post providing 5 ways to tell if you have skin cancer in 2017. After all, it is your external sheath, covering you head to toe, rain or shine. It is the first thing you see in the mirror every morning. I still remember the inquisitive rant that my mind went on the first time I realized what cancer was, and that my skin is the most common place that particular frightening disease liked to present itself. A flurry of questions entered my mind. Does skin cancer itch? If not, what does skin cancer feel like? What are the main causes of skin cancer? Although I don’t plan to answer all of these questions directly in this post, I hope to continue to add to Talk About Derm on a daily basis to bring all the puzzle pieces together regarding skin cancer from a personal perspective. Fundamentally, there are three main types of skin cancer you will hear talked about: squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. The scariest, most dangerous type is melanoma, a cancer that is made up of cells that give your skin color called melanocytes. Because it is the most ominous, we will spend the majority of this post discussing the importance of checking your skin for the 5 things that dermatologists commonly refer to as the ABCDEs.
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The letter “A” stands for asymmetry. When looking at a darkly colored spot or any spot on your skin for that matter, you should think of it as a huge New York pizza. If you were to cut that pizza in half, each gigantic half-moon piece should look exactly the same. Next time you look at that spot you’re worried about, just draw an imaginary line down the middle and compare the shapes of both resultant sides. Make sense?
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Secondly, the letter “B” is meant to jog your memory to look at the borders of the spot. Typically, a normal mole (which dermatologists usually call a nevus) will have smooth borders that are easy to define. This means that the edges of the spot might be blurred or jagged. It can be difficult to determine where the spot begins and ends.
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Now that we have some knowledge under our belts, let’s talk about the third letter in the educational sequence that may be hinting at an underlying skin cancer, “C”. “C” stands for color. A normal mole (nevus) on your skin should be one consistent color throughout. If your spot is multiple colors, reddish, bluish, rainbow colored, or just plain looks crazy than you should go in and see a dermatologist or your family physician as soon as you can. This is a good time to recap. We have learned that we should be drawing imaginary lines through our moles to see if they both look like mirror images of each other. Additionally, we learned that borders aren’t just a well versed topic in American politics, but also something we should be paying particular attention to with spots on our skin. Finally, color within a mole is a crucial hint to whether or not this mole should be cherished or provide worry.
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Probably the easiest step in the mental sequence of analyzing a mole is the letter “D”, which stands for diameter. Diameter is just a fancy way of saying, “Is the mole big?” The official recommendation is to pay closer attention to moles that are greater than 6mm in diameter. Seeing that we don’t carry rulers with us every moment of the day, we should think of 6mm as any spot that is about the size of a pencil eraser as a crude references point. Are you having a hard time keeping track of all these characteristics of skin cancer yet? Don’t worry, that’s normal. Just hang in there, we are almost finished up. The most important way to tell if you have skin cancer is coming up next!
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Now for the big one. The never more useful letter “E”. It’s always been a vowel, but it hasn’t always saved lives in quite the same way as it does when it is utilized as a screening mnemonic for preventing the spread of melanoma (the worst type of skin cancer). “E” stands for evolution of the spot. No, we aren’t talking about how the human lineage involves apes. Instead, we are talking about how the spot changes over time. Did it start getting bigger rapidly? Has it suddenly formed a scab and spontaneously bleeds? Has it turned into a weird shade of reddish blue color from the normal brown it has been for 18 years? These are all things that can be housed under the classification of change or evolution. It is important to combine each of ABCDEs of melanoma in order to make a well informed decision to seek further medical care. You know your body better than anyone in the world. Don’t be scared to seek help if you notice something out of the ordinary.
These 5 ways to tell if you have skin cancer have been around for years, but the utility of constant awareness remains. Don’t let the light natured tone of this post fool you. Melanoma and other forms of skin cancer can be very serious and something that can be prevented and caught at an early stage. One study recently reported that roughly 40% of individuals they examined caught their own melanoma.1)American Academy of Dermatology Ad Hoc Task Force for the, A. o. M., Tsao, H., Olazagasti, J. M., Cordoro, K. M., Brewer, J. D., Taylor, S. C., . . . Begolka, W. S. (2015). Early detection of melanoma: reviewing the ABCDEs. J Am Acad Dermatol, 72(4), 717-723. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.01.025 Sure, a lot of the time most people will overreact to normal spots just because they haven’t seen enough cancer to know the difference. That shouldn’t sway each and every one of us from being aware of our own body. Be on the lookout for further posts from us pursuing various forms of skin cancer treatment, physical symptoms of skin cancer, and further discussion of cutting edge melanoma research. Keep a close eye on your skin and be sure to spread the love. Teach a friend these 5 ways to look for skin cancer, who knows, you might possibly save their life.
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|1.||↑||American Academy of Dermatology Ad Hoc Task Force for the, A. o. M., Tsao, H., Olazagasti, J. M., Cordoro, K. M., Brewer, J. D., Taylor, S. C., . . . Begolka, W. S. (2015). Early detection of melanoma: reviewing the ABCDEs. J Am Acad Dermatol, 72(4), 717-723. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.01.025|