It can develop anywhere on your body and it is often up to you to find it. If left untreated, it can pose serious health risks. Melanomas most often develop on skin areas exposed to the sun but they can also occur elsewhere.
The National Cancer Institute estimates doctors will diagnose nearly 77,000 men and women with melanoma in 2013, and nearly 9,500 people will die from melanoma.
When it comes to finding melanoma on the body, experts often quote the saying: “One of these things is not like the other.” If a mole suddenly changes or there is unusual growth on the skin, it’s best to get it checked out by a physician. Also, it is a good idea to visit a dermatologist at least once a year for a check-up.
The Mayo Clinic and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommend you think of the letters A-B-C-D-E.
- A is for asymmetrical: Look for moles or blemishes with irregular shapes such as two halves that look different.
- B is for border: Take note if a mole has an irregular, notched, or scalloped border.
- C is for color: Watch for growths or blemishes with many colors or an uneven distribution of color.
- D is for diameter: Look for growth in a mole larger than ¼ inch.
- E is for evolving: Look for changes over time. This includes growth in size and change in shape or color, but also new itching or bleeding. Also watch for scaliness, oozing, and the spreading of pigment from the mole into surrounding skin.
You should also be aware of hidden melanomas. These can appear under a nail, in the mouth or other interior parts of the body, and in the eye.
The American Cancer Society recommends you check your own skin for a melanoma once a month. It’s best to do a self-exam in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to look at places that are hard to see, like the back of your thighs. Make sure you look at your palms, the soles of your feet, your scalp, your ears and your back. Don’t be afraid to ask family, friends, or caregivers providing elder home care services for help in the exams.
To protect yourself against melanoma, authorities recommend you make sure you use sunscreen. It often does not take long to apply it before going outside. Sun-protective clothing can also make a big difference in the level of protection.