The most serious type of skin cancer, invasive melanoma, is the sixth most common cancer in men and women. Unfortunately, the incidence rate has been steadily increasing. About one third of all melanomas develop within atypical moles (dysplastic nevi). Detecting the malignant melanoma early is the key to preventing deaths. Monthly self-exams of your skin and regular visits to your dermatologist for full-skin exams are imperative for early detection.
Identifying Suspicious Moles – The Ugly Duckling
Moles tend to look alike on a given individual. When a person has many moles, look for the “ugly duckling mole.” This will be the one that looks different from the other moles on your body. When you identify a mole that looks different from others on your skin, you should have it examined by a dermatologist.
Learn your ABCDEs:
The Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD) refer to a list of features to look for when performing your monthly self-exams. To make it easy to remember, they call it the ADCDEs. Keep these in mind as you exam the moles on your body.
- Border irregularity
- Color variability
- Diameter greater than 6 mm
- Evolution or change
Atypical (Dysplastic) Moles
Atypical moles are the ones with the ABCDE features. Numerous atypical moles are one of many risk factors for melanoma. All atypical moles should be examined by a dermatologist; however, all atypical moles don’t necessarily have to be removed. Your dermatologist may identify atypical moles as “stable”, which means that their appearance is not changing. Together, your dermatologist and you may decide to monitor these moles. It is important that you follow your dermatologist’s recommendations for regular visits to monitor the moles. Some patients have 100’s of moles and these may be followed closely, only removing particularly suspicious or changing moles.
We recommend that you schedule a baseline full-skin exam (skin cancer screen) with an American Board of Dermatology certified dermatologist. He or she will tell you how often you should have a full-skin exam. Typical intervals are every 6 or 12 months, depending on the number and appearance of your moles.
Remember to perform monthly skin self-exams to track changes to your existing moles or the appearance of new moles. To track your moles, you may find it helpful to use the Body Mole Map (download it and use it!) offered by the AAD. See a dermatologist without delay if you spot an ugly duckling mole, a mole that is changing, or an atypical mole with any of the ABCDE features.
In addition you should have a complete sun safety program that includes regular use of sunscreen, protective clothing, and sunglasses.