Did you know that one in five Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime? It’s the fastest growing cancer in the world, and it spreads earlier and more quickly than other types of skin cancer. For young people ages 15 to 29, it’s the second most common type of cancer diagnosis. Most people don’t think about their risk of cancer at a younger age – but the average age for a melanoma diagnosis is just 50 years old!
Melanoma is different than other skin cancers. Even in its early stages, it has the potential spread throughout the body’s lymph system and occasionally through the whole body by means of the bloodstream. It may also occur in oral, vaginal, anal, nasal and intestinal mucus membranes. Sometimes melanoma’s primary lesion resolves without a trace, leaving cancerous cells inside the body. That’s why a seemingly small lesion can be potentially devastating and hard to treat if it’s ignored.
“It’s absolutely critical that people of all ages have their skin routinely checked by a dermatologist to watch out for unusual skin changes,” says Alvaro Valle, MD, surgical oncologist with University Surgical Associates. “This is so important because when skin cancer – including melanoma – is found earlier, it’s much easier to treat effectively.”
Melanoma often begins with something that looks like a mole and can be removed quickly – if it’s caught early. Moles can sometimes be mistaken for beauty marks, so they fly under the radar and don’t get the attention they should. This underscores the importance of having a dermatologist take a closer look at anything abnormal on your skin.
THE ABCDEs of Skin Cancer
There’s also a simple way to evaluate your skin regularly. Remember the ABCDE rule to help identify suspicious looking moles:
A – Asymmetry (One half of the mole doesn’t match the other).
B – Border that is irregular, scalloped or poorly defined.
C – Color that is not uniform; has shades or tan, brown or black and is some time white, blue or red.
D – Diameter greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser).
E – Evolving shape, size or color.
Learn more about the ABCDEs here. And click here for 5 Points to Ponder about Melanoma.