Melanoma: How To Identify Spots That Are Possible Signs Of Skin Cancer

To detect skin cancer as early as possible, you may have heard that the ABCDE rule is essential to remember. And if you haven't, stay with us, we'll explain in a minute.

May is recognized as National Skin Cancer Awareness Month by the American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD), as they promote a focus on sharing information about symptoms and highlighting the importance of protection. In the United States, skin cancer is one of the most common forms, as well as one of the most preventable forms, of cancer.

Melanoma, while ranking third in terms of prevalence, is said to be the deadliest skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed annually increased by 53% from 2008 to 2018. Early detection is the key to successful treatment as the survival rate is 99% if the melanoma has only infiltrated the top layer of the skin. The rate decreases to 63% when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and significantly falls to 20% when it metastasizes to distant organs.

Dermatologists developed an easy-to-remember system for spotting suspicious moles and spots on your skin, known as the ABCDE rule. While considered highly useful for detection, it is important to remember that there may exceptions to certain cases.

A: Asymmetry

If you drew a line down the center of a mole, both sides would usually look the same. An asymmetrical lesion shaped irregularly is said to have a greater risk of being cancerous as moles that are noncancerous are usually symmetrical in appearance.

B: Border

Stay on the lookout for outlines of spots that appear ragged, notched, or blurred. The spread of pigment from the border of a spot into surrounding skin should also be noted and brought to the attention of a doctor.

C: Color

Unusual shades and combinations of colors can be observed in melanoma spots. While regular moles are often just shades of brown or gray, multiple colors in the spots that include black, white, gray, brown, red, pink, or blue could be a possible sign of concern. 

D: Diameter

If the diameter of the spot is larger than the size of a pea or a pencil eraser i.e. measures more than 6 millimeters across, it may be worth getting it checked out. However, many cases of melanoma "can be smaller than a pencil eraser," said dermatologist Dr. Clifford Perlis from the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, warning about exceptions.

E: Evolution

Research has shown that most melanomas do not arise from existing moles. Since people typically do not grow new moles after the age of 30, any such new growths should be pointed out to a doctor. In any case, change and irritation are red flags. "If a mole itches, burns, starts growing, or becomes a different color, get it checked out immediately," said Dr. Bruce Robinson, a dermatologist in New York City.