Don’t get burned: What you need to know about melanoma

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. While melanoma accounts for a small portion of skin cancers, it is actually one of the most common cancers among young adults, especially women.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in the United States during 2020:

  • About 100,350 new melanomas will be diagnosed (about 60,190 in men and 40,160 in women).
  • About 6,850 people are expected to die of melanoma (about 4,610 men and 2,240 women).

Melanoma can appear on normal skin, or begin as a mole or other area that changes in appearance. It is caused by changes in cells called melanocytes, which produce melanin, the skin pigment responsible for hair and skin color.

Providers with UofL Health – James Graham Brown Cancer Center’s Multidisciplinary Skin Cancer and Melanoma Team recommend regular skin self-exams after a shower or bath. It’s best to begin by learning where your birthmarks, moles and blemishes are, and what they usually look and feel like.

Using a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror, check for anything new:

  • A mole that looks abnormal
  • A change in size, shape, color or texture of a mole
  • A sore that doesn’t heal

Check yourself from head to toe, including all areas and crevices of the skin.

Remembering your “ABCDEs” can help you remember what to watch for:

  • Asymmetry – The shape of one half does not match the other.
  • Border – The edges are often jagged, uneven, distorted or atypical in outline; the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
  • Color – The color is uneven. Shades of black, brown and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink or blue also may be seen.
  • Diameter – There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas are usually larger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4 inch or 5 mm).
  • Evolution – Anything that changes over time.

Skin Cancer Symptoms

Be alert to any kind of change in a mole. The four most common and most significant signs of change are a mole or skin area that:

  • Changes in size
  • Changes in color—typically gets darker
  • Itches
  • Bleeds

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

  • Fair complexion and light hair
  • A lot of moles
  • Blistering sunburns
  • Ultraviolet radiation exposure from the sun or a tanning bed; Exposure from a tanning bed may be more risky than exposure to the sun.

During your skin self-exam, if you find something suspicious, call your dermatologist.