Americans can expect over 4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer every year, and almost 200,000 additional melanoma diagnoses. It’s the most common form of cancer, and it can also be one of the most survivable forms of the disease, as long as irregularities are detected early.
While visiting a skin cancer expert like MD Vein and Skin Specialists is a great way to have your skin professionally assessed, you can gain an even greater advantage by home-monitoring your moles for changes that may suggest cancerous activity. Knowing what to look for and using a simple tracking plan can help you keep an eye on potential problem spots so you can act during early or precancerous stages.
From mole to cancer
Virtually everyone has a collection of moles, dark pigmented spots on the skin, though the number of moles varies widely by person and skin type. If your moles look similar to each other, or if you’ve had them since childhood without significant change, chances are there’s little to worry about.
However, exposure to the ultraviolet components of sunlight or tanning beds can disrupt the DNA inside the various types of skin cells, and damage is often cumulative, so your time on the beach adds up year to year to bring you closer to a cancer threshold. That’s when the appearance of a mole starts to change.
The ABCDEs of skin cancer
There’s a simple, five-step assessment checklist you can use monthly to monitor your moles. The ABCDE mnemonic guides the inspection process. When looking at a mole, check for:
- Asymmetry: a mole that has a lopsided shape
- Borders: the edges of a suspicious mole will be irregular or ragged
- Color: healthy moles are a single, normal color, so watch for changes and unusual colors
- Diameter: moles that grow larger than one-quarter inch in diameter are suspect
- Evolving: any changes, in size, shape, color, or texture, could indicate a developing cancer
Both flat and raised spots can become cancerous, so don’t rule out a suspicious mole simply because it’s flat against your skin.
Tracking your self-exams
It’s difficult, month to month, to maintain a mental inventory of your mole status. Keeping a log may be helpful in eliminating uncertainty about small changes that may or may not be occurring.
Your smartphone could be an excellent partner for your self-exams. Simply keeping photos of moles allows easy and direct visual comparisons to past months, making changes more obvious. There are also skin cancer screening apps that streamline the process.
Some apps use clip-on cameras to permit close-ups of moles, while others save mole photos separately from your regular galleries. All provide some help in assessing the status of unusual moles, though they are also limited by how effectively you can photograph your spots.
Dr. Clement Banda offers mole mapping as a specialty service. Using the FotoFinder® mole mapping system, you capture a high-resolution mole history that Dr. Banda assesses, ensuring less chance that a suspicious mole goes unnoticed.
Contact MD Vein and Skin Specialists by calling the appointment hotline at 443-267-2428 if you’re overdue for a skin cancer screening.