Learn Your ABCDEs: Warning Signs of Skin Cancer

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skin cancer

Your mother, grandmother, and great grandmother all soaked up the sun for generations and never got skin cancer. You tan and almost never burn, use SPF 30 sunscreen and the occasional tanning oil. Are you still at risk for developing skin cancer? Yes. A tan does not indicate good skin health; it is a response to injury caused by UV rays. Two million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, and although most cases are easy to treat, some result in melanoma, which is the cause for most skin cancer deaths.

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma usually appears as an open sore that will not heal; a raised, reddish patch or white bump. Squamous cell carcinoma appears as a raised wart-like sore, that is rough and scaly to the touch. If caught early enough, both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are treatable. Melanoma is the deadliest and most aggressive form of skin cancer. It appears as an uneven mole that is brown, black or multicolored. Melanomas often develop in pre-existing moles and evolve into asymmetrical shapes.

mole skin cancer melanoma

There is an established list of signs to consult when looking for any suspicious marks on your skin: ABCDE. In addition, studies in recent years have added painful and itchy moles or spots to the list of skin cancer signs. St. Joseph Hospital dermatologist Dr. Matthew Goodman recommends checking your body once a year for potential signs of skin cancer. In this article on She Knows, he says that "melanoma can be anywhere; between your toes, under your tongue, or in and around your private areas. It's not limited to your arms, legs and head." Meaning, you can lather your body up with lotion until you feel like a slug, but are still at risk. Make sure to know your ABCDEs.

A: Asymmetry. This means that one half of a mole or mark does not match the other half.

B: Border. Irregular edges that can be ragged, wavy, or in any way misshapen.

C: Color. The color of the mole or spot is not the same all over; it can incorporate shades of black, brown, pink, red and white.

D: Diameter. The spot is larger than a pencil eraser, usually 6 millimeters across or more.

E: Evolving. You've noticed changes in the mole or spot: in its shape, color or size.

Of course, skin cancer isn't cookie cutter. Some melanomas do not fit the mold. Any changes you've noticed in moles, or new spots on your skin should be reported immediately to your doctor. Noticeable changes can include: itchy or painful sores, pigment spreading to the skin surrounding the mole, bleeding, oozing pus from the mole, a change in the texture of the mole, or any sore that does not want to heal. The American Academy of Dermatology published this Body Mole Map, a guide to your thorough skin exam.

>> Don't forget to check your body for other warning signs. Learn how to spot the signs of cervical cancer here!