It's skin cancer awareness month!

May is skin cancer awareness month. 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer at some point during their lifetimes. If caught early, most skin cancers are completely treatable. In fact, most skin cancers are detected by patients not by doctors, which is why self-examination is so important. The three most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. 

BCC is the most common form of skin cancer, affecting more than 1 million people every year. It may look like a shiny or pearly pink bump, a pink or red rough flat spot, or a sore that doesn’t heal. SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer in the US. SCC may look like a red, crusty or scabby spot, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a rough red bump that is getting larger. It may bleed easily.

Melanoma is one of the most deadly forms of skin cancer, and if not caught early it can spread throughout the body. In the US today, one person dies every hour from melanoma. Melanoma is a cancer of the pigment-producing cells in the skin, the melanocytes. Melanoma may be multiple shades of brown, black, blue or red. Dermatologists look for the “ABCDE” signs when looking for melanoma.

“A” stands for asymmetry. Normal moles are symmetric and uniform in appearance.

“B” stands for border. Normal moles have a well-defined, regular border. A jagged or irregular border could mean that the mole isn’t normal.

“C” stands for color. Normal moles are uniform or symmetric in color. If there is variability in the color or more than one color in a mole, it may not be normal.

“D” stands for diameter. Most moles are smaller than a pencil eraser. Some moles that have been present since birth may be larger, but these congenital moles are known to be present for a lifetime and are stable, meaning they are not changing.

“E” stands for evolution. Moles should change. Any mole that looks like it is changing should be evaluated.

A general rule of thumb is that any mole that is changing or that looks different from the other moles (it stands out or it is an “ugly duckling), or any spot that hurts or bleeds, should be evaluated by a board-certified dermatologist. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to preventing spread of the cancer and achieving the best possible outcome.

When in doubt, have your moles checked by a board-certified Dermatologist. We are the experts in all issues pertaining to the skin, and can tell you if a spot is a harmless freckle or something potentially more serious.

Jordana Gilman