May is Melanoma Awareness Month. Melanoma is scary. It just is. It starts as a little brown spot on the skin, maybe it even looks like a freckle, sun spot, or other moles that you may have, but if it’s not then it may be something far more problematic.
Melanomas typically look like either a mole or sun spot gone bad – meaning they are growing abnormally like cancers tend to do. They may be completely new, growing rapidly, growing in an irregular shape, developing different colors or an irregular pattern of colors, or becoming asymmetric.
What You Need to Know About Melanomas
Don’t assume your new or growing spot is just a cosmetic concern or nuisance.
Some sun spots, freckles, or moles may be totally harmless, but don’t assume that. Before you go for the bleaching cream, the laser treatment or the chemical peel, make sure your spot(s) have been seen by a Board Certified Dermatologist.
I can’t tell you how many patients I have had who have come in saying, “I’ve had this brown spot frozen and lasered and I’ve tried creams on it, but it keeps coming back”. The reason may be that it’s not a harmless spot. When I biopsy these spots they often turn out to be melanomas!
While no one wants skin cancer, many skin cancers are actually very slow-growing and will never get a chance to get into your bloodstream or lymph nodes. Melanoma is different! If melanomas grow deep they can spread through your body just like breast, pancreatic, colon, or any other type of cancer in the body. Soooo…time is of the essence. If you see a new, changing, or growing spot, make your appointment to get it examined by Dr. Steele Johnson.
You Can Get Melanomas Where the Sun Don’t Shine!
Sometimes when I’m doing a skin check and I look at the bottoms of one’s feet, they say, “Oh, you have to check the bottom of my feet?”
Yes. We go from head to toe. While the sun is the most significant factor in developing skin cancer, including melanoma, sometimes you get them where you never got sun. Melanomas are cancer and cancers come from a mutated cell that grows out of control to create a lot of mutated cells that can invade other tissues. Sometimes cells mutate for reasons that we don’t entirely understand. This why regular skin checks are important – you can’t see everything.
Don’t Follow the Rules, Trust Your Gut
Often we talk about the ABCDEs of Melanomas and ask people to see if their moles have any of these worrisome characteristics. If they do, then they may be more likely to be melanoma.
- Asymmetry – abnormal shape where the mole looks different on one side than the other
- Border – irregular borders, i.e. not a smooth round mole
- Color – multiple colors within the lesion, changing colors or unusual colors
- Diameter – size – larger than a pencil eraser is generally the rule of thumb
- Evolution – any change at all in a mole
I often hear people say, “When I follow these rules, I feel like everything looks like a melanoma, so I just don’t know what’s what!” I understand it can get confusing. Do pay attention to those things as best you can, but also, trust your gut! You may have never formally measured your moles, or taken pictures of them, etc., but you live with them every day. You will really know if something is bigger than it used to be, if it’s a different color, or completely new. Pay attention to your skin, even if you’re not taking out a ruler or comparing photos – you will know when something looks or feels different. Just make sure you act on it.
So, YOU Need a Melanoma Skin Check!
Yes, you. Every adult (and even children with moles) needs a skin check at least once per year.
Even if you don’t think you have anything on your skin, you can’t see everything and you may not be able to determine all the characteristics of a skin cancer.
If you have spots that you just don’t like, come in to see Dr. Steele Johnson. We need to figure out if they’re concerning before we decide what to do with them. If they’re harmless then we can start on a cosmetic plan – peels, lasers, creams, etc. If there is one of more that is potentially cancerous or pre-cancerous then we’ll start with that and move on to the cosmetic aspect of things.