|Melanoma: Learn to ID
USA Weekend Magazine, November 6, 2005
by Susan T. Lennon
Once again, for interested readers, I'm including a bit more information than appears in the published Health Brief.
Melanoma is a potentially deadly skin cancer. This year, ten percent more Americans will be diagnosed with it than last year, and one will die of it every hour. It’s the #1 cancer killer of women age 20-29, and middle-aged and older men are at highest risk. Since we – not doctors – first find most melanomas, we need to keep improving our detection skills. Caught early, melanoma is usually 100% curable.
A new Boston University study shows that we’ve gotten better at recognizing “superficial spreading” melanoma because we’ve learned our “ABCDs” (watch for spots that are Asymmetrical, with Border irregularities, in various Colors, where the Diameter is bigger than a pencil eraser).
But, dangerous “nodular melanoma” (NM) doesn’t fit ABCD. As small, thick, aggressive lesion, NM is much harder to catch before it’s spread.
What to look for? According to Marie-France Demierre, MD, FRCPC, lead author of the study, see a dermatologist for bumps that are:
- Small, symmetric, raised
- Itchy, sore, bleeding
- Pink or light brown
- Changing rapidly over time
Although anyone can get melanoma, including Asians and African-Americans, your risk is highest if you have:
- atypical or precancerous moles
- childhood sunburns
- fair skin that burns rather than tans
- overexposure to sun
- first-degree relative with melanoma
- more than fifty pigmented spots
- tanning bed use
Of course, we can’t go running to the dermatologist whenever a new spot appears, so:
1. Conduct a monthly thorough skin self-exam. Examine your body from head to fingernail, between your toes, “down there.” If you’re covered in freckles, use the “ugly duckling” rule – if one looks far different from the rest, it could spell danger.
2. See a dermatologist for a professional skin exam – preferably one who does full body exams and uses a dermascope. A good derm will fill you in on your skin and teach you how to become your own skin detective.
You might just save your own life.
for comprehensive skin self-exam instructions.