Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States — about 9,500 people are diagnosed with it every single day, and one in five Americans can expect to develop it at some point in their lives.
Fortunately, skin cancer is almost always curable when it’s caught early and treated promptly. And as luck would have it, skin cancer is also visible and relatively easy to detect — provided you know what you’re looking for.
Here at Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy in Glendale, Arizona, board-certified general surgeon Johnny L. Serrano, DO, FACOS, uses the ABCDE method to spot the kind of atypical moles that should be removed and checked for cancer cells.
Here’s how to use the same technique when you perform your own monthly skin check:
Moles — also known as nevi or beauty marks — are the most common skin growths. Although most babies are born without them, the average person develops 10 to 40 moles by the time they reach adulthood. Some people have many more.
Moles can appear anywhere on your body, but they tend to develop on areas of skin that are regularly exposed to the sunlight. You’re more likely to develop them if you spend a lot of time outdoors, especially if you have fair skin.
Moles can match your skin tone, or they can be more pigmented and appear tan, brown, or black. It’s normal for moles to slowly change as time goes by; they may become lighter or slightly raised, or they may gradually fade away. Some moles don’t change much at all.
Detecting atypical moles
Just as some moles fade over time and some don’t change much at all, others undergo atypical changes that should be seen as a red flag — one that warrants prompt evaluation by an expert.
That’s because atypical moles may be a sign of melanoma, one of the most serious and aggressive forms of skin cancer. Using the ABCDE method for detecting atypical moles is one of the best ways to spot melanoma and treat it before it has a chance to progress.
The ABCDEs of melanoma are:
Normal moles are round or oval, and their shape is well-defined with sharp, clear borders. Atypical moles are more likely to have an irregular shape that looks different from the other moles on your body. Often, one side of the mole doesn’t mirror, or match, its other side.
The edges of a normal, benign mole are usually smooth, crisp, and even. A mole that’s turned cancerous often develops uneven borders, or an edge that appears notched, scalloped, or poorly defined.
Normal, benign moles are a single color — usually a uniform shade of tan or brown. Moles that consist of multiple colors, on the other hand, are often an indication of melanoma.
Any mole that has various shades of tan, brown, and black should be evaluated by an expert; moles that contain spots of red, blue, or white may indicate the presence of a growing melanoma that should be diagnosed as soon as possible.
Although normal moles come in various small sizes — some may look like the mark of a fine pencil tip, while others look more like the dot of a thick marker tip — any mole that’s a quarter of an inch in diameter or larger should be checked by an expert. For quick reference, that’s about the size of a standard pencil eraser.
Normal moles do change, but they change very slowly over the course of many years or even decades. Cancerous moles, however, tend to change rapidly and in obvious ways.
Any noticeable change in the size, shape, color, or elevation of a mole is cause for concern. A bleeding, itchy, or crusting mole can also indicate melanoma, as can a new mole that appears on your skin after the age of 30.
Atypical mole removal
Depending on your personal skin cancer risk, undergoing an annual or twice-yearly skin cancer screening with your dermatologist is the best way to spot atypical moles before they progress.
Between expert screenings, it’s important to conduct self-exams using the ABCDE method every month — especially if you have fair skin and a lot of moles. If you spot an atypical mole, Dr. Serrano can assess and remove it as needed.
If the mole is relatively small and raised, he may use a technique called shave excision to remove it. Larger moles and moles that extend into deeper epidermal layers typically require traditional surgical excision. Afterward, the excised tissue is sent to a lab to be biopsied.
To learn more about in-office mole removal at Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy in Glendale, Arizona, call 602-393-1304 or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Serrano today.