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Spot On: Skin Exams Save Lives

Published: May 30, 2009

Unlike other threats to health, skin cancer develops right before our eyes—or those of our friends and family. This year, the American Academy of Dermatology is urging everyone to screen themselves and the people they love for skin cancer, especially melanoma. (It’s the deadliest form.) If caught early, 99 percent of the one million cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year are curable.

“People who check their skin regularly for any changes in existing moles or new moles are taking an important first step in detecting the early warning signs of skin cancer,” dermatologist and president of the Academy David M. Pariser, MD, FAAD tells the Post. “Asking a partner to help monitor your skin for any changes or to assist in examining hard-to-reach areas can be very beneficial in spotting skin cancer.”

Regular and thorough skin exams improve early detection and save lives. Melanoma grows slowly, and, given time, can spread through the body. It may occur anywhere on the skin and is most common on areas that are hard to see, such as the backs of men and legs of women.

When looking at a spot on the skin, use the ABCDE guide from the American Academy of Dermatology and report suspicious signs to a dermatologist right away.

photo MU May 30 Asymmetry: One half unlike the other half.
photo MU May 30 Border: Irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
photo MU May 30 Color: Varied from one area to another; shades of tan and brown or black, sometimes white, red or blue.
photo MU May 30 Diameter: While melanomas are usually greater than 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
photo MU May 300 Evolving: A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.

On the Horizon
Researchers are developing new ways to detect skin cancers earlier—and without cutting into the skin. One promising technology, called dermascopy, utilizes a hand-held light device to help doctors distinguish between melanoma and ordinary moles. Laser microscopy scans skin cells beneath the surface to help detect cancerous tissue.

Click here to download the Body Mole Map (PDF).

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