Every day in the United States, over 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer, and every hour, about two Americans die of the disease. All forms of skin cancer are critical, but the third most common type — melanoma — is considered the deadliest because it grows quickly and readily invades other tissues.
But it’s not all bad news: The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected and treated early is over 99% — or nearly a cure rate. As luck would have it, melanoma cancers are also detectable.
With five office locations throughout southeastern Florida, our expert team of board-certified dermatologists at Florida Dermatology Associates uses the ABCDE technique to identify atypical moles that should be removed and checked for melanoma cancer cells.
But you don’t have to wait for your in-office skin cancer screening to scan for problematic moles — you can use the same method when you perform your monthly skin check. Here’s what to look for.
Moles, the most common skin growths, are also called nevi or beauty marks. Most newborns don’t have moles, but the average person accumulates between one to three dozen small, pigmented spots by adulthood. Some people have many more across the surface of their skin.
While a mole can emerge on any skin area, it appears most often on body areas exposed to sunlight. People who spend a lot of time outdoors tend to develop more moles, especially if they’re fair-skinned.
Normal, healthy moles don’t all look the same. While many moles are pigmented and appear tan, brown, or black, other healthy moles may match your skin tone. Many healthy moles don’t change over time, but some become lighter or slightly raised. Sometimes, a healthy mole may gradually fade away.
The term melanoma means “black tumor.” Melanomas grow from pigment-producing skin cells called melanocytes. These cells are responsible for giving your skin and moles their color. About one in three melanomas begin in existing moles; the rest start in normal skin.
Melanoma can appear as a scaly patch, an open sore, or a raised bump. It can also emerge as an atypical mole.
A healthy mole may stay the same, become slightly raised, or slowly fade over time. Any mole that undergoes “atypical changes” should be a red flag warning — warranting evaluation by a skin expert at Florida Dermatology Associates.
An atypical mole may be a sign of an aggressive melanoma. The ABCDE method identifies atypical moles and is one of the best ways to spot mole-grown melanoma and treat it before it spreads.
The ABCDEs of atypical moles are:
A normal mole is either round or oval with well-defined, clear borders. An atypical mole is more likely to have an irregular shape, distinguishing it from other moles on your skin. One side of the mole doesn’t mirror or match the other side.
The edge, or border, of a healthy mole, is typically smooth, crisp, and even. An atypical mole has uneven edging or perimeter that looks notched, scalloped, or poorly defined.
A healthy mole is one color — often a uniform shade of tan, brown, or black. A mole that appears mottled with more than one color is atypical, and often a sign of melanoma.
Any mole that contains more than one shade of tan, brown, or black should be looked at by an expert; a mole that appears to have spots of red, blue, or white may indicate the presence of a growing melanoma that needs evaluation as spoon as possible.
Healthy moles come in various small sizes; some look like the mark of a fine pencil, while others look more like a dot from a thick marker. Moles a quarter of an inch in diameter or larger — equal to or greater than the size of a pencil eraser — are atypical and should be checked by a professional.
Healthy moles can change, but they tend to do so slowly over years or even decades. Atypical moles, however, are more likely to change rapidly and noticeably.
Remember, moles with any discernible change in the size, shape, color, or elevation are cause for concern. A bleeding, itchy, or crusting mole can also indicate melanoma, as can a new mole that suddenly appears on your skin after 30 years old.
To learn more about atypical moles or schedule your next skin cancer screening, call or click online to book an appointment today at your nearest Florida Dermatology Associates office in Palm Bay, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa, Melbourne, or Titusville, Florida.