May is Melanoma Awareness Month. Just a single blistering sunburn, especially at a young age, can double your chances of melanoma. Skin cancer is colorblind. Hispanic and African Americans often have skin cancers diagnosed at later stages when treatment is more difficult and cure rates are lower. So what are some things that should prompt you to go see your local dermatologist?
One easy thing to look for is the "Ugly Duckling Sign." Freckles and harmless sun spots are uniform. Spots that are all the same size, shape, even shades of light brown are usually benign. If you notice one spot that looks different from your others, call your dermatologist for an appointment to have it checked out.
The A,B,C,D of Melanoma
A stands for asymmetry. If you draw a line down the middle of the mole, one half will not match the other.
B stands for borders. Benign moles typically have smooth even borders. Melanoma lesions will have irregular and hard to define borders.
C stands for color. Melanoma lesions often have more than one color and shade of black, brown, blue, or red.
D stands for diameter. If a mole is greater than 6mm in diameter (the eraser head on a pencil), it is more likely to be pre-malignant or malignant.
While melanoma is the most deadly of the skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are much more common. The classic basal cell carcinoma will be a round, pearly papule with rolled border. Other types of basal cell carcinomas can look like scars or just a red shiny patch. Actinic keratoses, which are the pre-cursors to squamous cell carcinomas, will be a focal scaly spot on a red base that is sometimes tender.
My rule of thumb is if a new spot lasts for more than one month, that is too long to write it off as a acne bump or a bug bite. It's always better to be safe than sorry, and a quick visit to your dermatologist can be life saving.