Doing a Skin Cancer Check? You May Not Be Looking in the Right Places

September 12, 2017

You’ve heard about skin cancer, so you keep an eye on existing moles. You periodically monitor to see if they are becoming more bumpy, red, itchy or raised? Yes, this is important, say experts, however, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, it’s actually just as essential to scan your skin for new growths in order to sleuth out melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

After reviewing 38 published studies comprising 20,126 melanomas, researchers found that less than one-third of melanomas arose from an existing mole, while the vast majority appeared on the skin as new spots. Translation: It turns out that most melanomas—about 70 percent—come from new spots rather than existing moles.

So, what should you be looking for when you do a skin cancer self-check? There are several key main markers to keep in mind—you can think of it as ABCD, explains William Wooden, MD, a plastic surgeon who specializes in skin cancer at Indiana University Health.

  • Asymmetry
  • Border, which should be smooth, not irregular or lumpy
  • Color, should be just one, and definitely not red or blue or white
  • Diameter, which should be less than 6 millimeters (like the width of a pencil eraser)

Have skin concerns? Be proactive and take action. “Always reach out and speak to a dermatologist. They can conduct a biopsy to tell whether the spot has to be removed,” explains Dr. Wooden. “And remember, even though most melanomas come from new spots, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the old ones. This study, for instance, found that 30 percent of melanomas still arose from existing moles,” he says.

The good news: “If caught early enough, most melanomas are curable,” he says. “It’s when the cancer gets a chance to grow and spread that it becomes a serious problem.”

-- By Sarah Burns

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