The ABCDE's of Melanoma and Moles — What To Look For
Fact is that not all moles, beauty marks, or other skin spots are created equal. Some can actually be downright dangerous. Your first line of defense is wearing SPF each and every day—and reapplying often during days when you’re outdoors. Your second line of defense is going for a yearly skin check at your dermatologist’s office. Your third line? Knowing what to look for in between those visits. With May being Melanoma Awareness Month, we chatted with Skincare.com experts, and board-certified dermatologists and skin cancer specialists, Dr. Dendy Engelman and Dr. Snehal Amin, to get a better understanding of of the ABCDEs of moles and melanoma.
Q1: Are all moles and marks created equal?
“There are so many types of skin spots and growths that the best way to learn about them is to look at your skin with a trained dermatologist. They can show you on your own skin the difference between a mole and a freckle or a precancer and a sunspot. The quick Google search cannot replace the judgment of an experienced dermatologist.”
Q2: Do freckles have to be watched the same way you would watch a mole or a birthmark?
“Freckles—or ephelides—are skin spots that have an increased amount of melanin and get darker with sun exposure. Freckles generally occur in people with light skin and are not typically dangerous. They do, however, imply a history of excessive sun exposure which causes a higher skin cancer risk. A mole, or nevus, generally does not darken with sunlight, is not symmetrical, and is usually darker. Moles can be pinpoint or large, flat or raised, pink or brown, hairy or smooth. Again, your dermatologist is your personal guide to your skin.”
Q3: Where is melanoma found most often?
“Although primary melanomas can be found all over the body including the skin, nails, retina, intestines, genitals, and brain, most melanomas diagnosed by dermatologists are found on the back and posterior legs. These are hard areas to self-check and that is why you need the aid of a trained dermatologist at least once a year.”
Q3: What do the ABCDE’s stand for?
A stands for asymmetry, meaning that your mole isn’t the same on both sides.
B stands for border, the edge of your mark will be jagged and not-well defined
C stands for color, note if you see different shades of tan, brown, black and sometimes even white, red or blue according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
D stands for diameter, typically melanomas are smaller than the head of a pencil eraser.
E stands for evolving, meaning this mole or mark has changed over time in any of the areas above. “I believe the most important letter for patients to know is E, for evolving. Any changing spot should be shown to your dermatologist.”
Q5: How important is it to keep an eye on your moles and marks?
“Many skin cancers that we see in the office are actually spotted by the patient who then comes in for a professional evaluation. The better understanding that patients have about their own skin spots, the sooner they come in when something changes. This is a two-part recommendation: everyone should know how to do a self-exam and what are the spots they are looking at. A new spot or a changing spot can be noted by a patient in between annual visits to their dermatologist and, therefore, be detected earlier.”
Q6: Are certain people at greater risk?
“Although a majority of skin cancers occur in lighter skinned patients who have a lot of sun exposure, there are many types of skin cancers that occur in sun-protected areas. There are some skin cancers that occur in people with decreased immune function, with exposures to certain chemicals or even viruses or with a specific family history. People who incorrectly assume that they are not susceptible to skin cancer often ignore their skin cancers and get diagnosed with late-stage disease that is difficult to cure. Basically, whether your family hails from England or Ethiopia or from Chile or China, you still need an annual skin exam.”
Q7: How can you better protect yourself?
“There are so many steps you can take to protect yourself. First off, always seek shade. Avoid sunburns at all costs. Enjoy the outdoors in the morning or evenings. Wear a broad-spectrum SPF. Wear hats and sun-protective clothing if you are outdoors for long periods of time. Get vitamin D from your food not the sun. And get checked!”