MELANOMA

Since early detection greatly improves one's chances of surviving melanoma, you should examine your skin every 6 to 8 weeks.

How To Spot Melanoma

Since early detection greatly improves one's chances of surviving melanoma, you should examine your skin every 6 to 8 weeks. The best time to do this is after a bath or shower, standing in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to help you view areas that are difficult to see. Examine all moles or markings, and look for any changes in the number, size, shape, or color of these markings.

What To Look For

Melanoma can appear suddenly as a new mole, or it can develop slowly in or near an existing mole. In men, melanomas are often found on the torso, or the head and neck area. In women, melanoma often develops on the lower legs as well as on the torso.

The ABCDs of Melanoma

This simple ABCD approach is a useful guide to help you identify moles you should show your doctor.

A = Asymmetry: melanoma lesions are typically irregular in shape (asymmetrical); benign--noncancerous--moles are typically round (symmetrical).

B = Border: melanoma lesions often have uneven or irregular borders (i.e., ragged or notched edges); benign moles have smooth, even borders.

C = Color: melanoma lesions often contain many shades of brown or black; benign moles are usually a single shade of brown.

D = Diameter: melanoma lesions are often more than 1/4 inch or 6 millimeters in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser); benign moles are usually less than 1/4 inch or 6 millimeters in diameter.

Early detection and treatment greatly improve the chance for surviving this disease. Patients with metastatic melanoma--where the disease has spread to other, more distant parts of the body--have a poorer chance of recovery. The longer you wait to have a mole examined, the greater the chance a potential melanoma may become metastatic.

Get Your Doctor Involved

If you notice an odd-looking mole or marking, contact your doctor as soon as possible. He or she will take a complete medical history and give you a physical examination. If your doctor also thinks the mole or marking looks unusual, a procedure known as a biopsy will be performed.

To perform the biopsy, a local anesthetic will be injected under the skin to numb the area. The entire mole, or a small sample of the mole, will be removed and examined in a laboratory to determine if the mole is cancerous.