the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Found early, most melanomas are curable, however, left
undetected, the disease can spread to other parts of the body making it harder
to treat, and potentially fatal.
advise giving self-exams once a month to check for changes in the patterns of
moles and other marks on your skin as well as the appearance of new markings. Melanoma
generally takes time to grow on the outermost layer of skin, the epidermis. If
diagnosed before spreading to the next layer of skin (the dermis) melanoma is
much easier to treat and cure.
It can often
be hard to tell the difference between normal moles and unhealthy markings. Red
flags typically involve changes in size,
shape, or color; discolorations; and moles that bleed easily.
Remember Your ABCs
The American Cancer Society describes a normal mole as an “evenly
colored brown, tan, or black spot, generally less than 6 millimeters (about the
width of a pencil eraser).”
A generally-used rule of thumb is the ABCDE system for finding tell-tale signs of melanoma. As the
American Cancer Society points out, you’re essentially looking for any spot on
your skin that stands out as odd and different. Formerly known as the ABCD
system, it was recently updated to include a fifth standard in measuring
melanoma risk. You can refer to the ABCDE
guide to check your skin for warning signs.
one half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other half.
irregular, ragged edges of a mole.
irregular color, ranging from shades of black, brown, or tan (sometimes pink,
white, red, or blue) within one sore. A normal mole tends to have an unvarying brown
the spot is typically (not always) larger than 6 millimeters in diameter—the
size of a pencil eraser.
this is a new addition to the former ABCD list; it acknowledges that if a mole
changes—in any way—this is good
cause to see your doctor.
If you notice any suspicious growths, sores, or lumps on your
body, see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will examine your body
for the appearance of the marking. If your doctor suspects melanoma, he or she
may take a biopsy, a sample of skin to view under a microscope—removing a small
area or the entire growth—to confirm the diagnosis.
If your doctor determines a melanoma diagnosis, it is important to
understand how you will proceed.
you may want to ask include:
- How far has my melanoma spread?
- Are there any additional tests
before we begin treatment?
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the risks and side
effects associated with these treatments?
- How long will treatment last?
- Will I have a scar following the
- Are my family members at risk for
- What are the chances of my cancer
Thanks to advances in technology and ongoing research, more and
more tools are available to educate and assist individuals in diagnosing
melanoma. The Melanoma Risk Assessment
Tool—a combined effort of
NCI, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California, San
Francisco—is an online interactive feature that helps doctors determine who is
most at risk for developing melanoma. Pulling data from a case-control study of
non-Hispanic whites in the United States, the calculator is intended for health
professionals but could serve as a helpful tool for curious and concerned
patients. Based on a series of questions, including age, gender, complexion,
and race, the tool calculates an individual’s five-year melanoma risk.
What It Means: In Situ vs. Invasive
If your doctor describes the melanoma as in situ this indicates melanoma that remains on the outermost layer
of your skin (epidermis) and is in one area. A diagnosis of invasive melanoma describes a more
serious condition, in which the tumor has spread more deeply into the skin or
to other organs.