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Know the A-B-C-D-Es of Melanoma

Published in Skin Care, For the Health of It Author: Christina Anderson,MD Author: Christina K. Anderson, MD

Almost every adult has moles. Most have anywhere from 10 to 40 and this is completely normal. But when is a mole not normal and something you should get checked?

There are three major types of skin cancer. The two most common, basal and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable. But the third most common type of skin cancer, melanoma, is considered the most dangerous and causes the most deaths.

Melanoma occurs when the cells that make our skin’s pigment start to grow abnormally and become cancerous. This can be caused by too much exposure to UV light.

Melanoma can run in families, too. If someone has a close family member with the condition — like a parent, sibling or a child — he or she has an increased chance of getting melanoma too.

While your chances of getting melanoma increase as you get older, it’s the most common cancer in those between ages 25 to 29. It is a serious and sometimes life-threatening cancer. If it is not caught early, it can grow deeper within the skin and spread to other parts of the body, making it difficult to treat.

When checking your moles, keep in mind the signs of melanoma. Remembering them is easy. Just recall your A-B-C-D-Es. These are short for:

  • A is for asymmetry. Is one part of the mole irregularly shaped?
  • B is for border. Are the mole’s sides jagged or uneven?
  • C is for color. Is one part of the mole’s color different from another part?
  • D is for diameter or the distance across the mole. Is it larger than a pencil eraser or 6 millimeters?
  • E is for evolving. Has the mole changed at all in the past weeks or months?

If you suspect any of the A-B-C-D-Es with your moles, you should probably have them checked by your health care provider. Otherwise, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends having your moles and pigmented spots checked at least once a year.