Three-fourths of all skin cancer deaths are the result of melanoma, according to the British Association of Dermatologists, making it the most dangerous type of skin cancer. If you want to protect yourself from this risk, early treatment is essential, but getting that treatment means you need to know what symptoms to watch for.
The ABCD Method
So, what does skin cancer look like? According to Medline, a source run by the U. S. National Institutes of Health, the first symptom to watch for when looking for possible melanoma is any kind of skin abnormality. Check moles, lumps, sores, etc. If any of those spots meets the following guidelines, have it checked out by a physician. These guidelines are sometimes referred to as the ABCD system, so that they can be more easily remembered.
“A” stands for asymmetry. In most of these skin lesions, the spot is going to be symmetrical, meaning that if you cut it directly in half, the two sides will mirror each other. With a cancerous growth, however, part of it may look different from the rest.
“B” stands for borders. A spot or area that could be melanoma sometimes has edges that are irregular instead of smooth, so look for border irregularity.
“C” represents color changes. Any time you have a mark on your skin that changes color or is a mix of different colors, have it examined.
“D” is for diameter. Most spots found to be malignant are not very large. They are usually about the size of a standard pencil eraser.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a fifth letter, “E,” is now also being added to this acronym. “E” stands for evolving because the skin spot may change its appearance over time. If it does, this should raise another red flag.
Of course knowing this system won’t do you much good if you don’t look for the signs. The British Association of Dermatologists recommends checking your skin for moles, lumps, etc. regularly. If you see anything that you find suspicious, have it examined by a physician.
Not all Cases are Easy to Spot
While the ABCD - and now E - system of spotting potential signs of melanoma works in many cases, sometimes melanoma appears on unusual and less visible parts of the body. In fact, some of these areas are unlikely to have been exposed to great quantities of sunlight, so researchers are unsure of their exact cause. These cases are often referred to as hidden melanoma. People who have dark skin are more likely to have hidden melanoma, which also means that complication risks are likely to be higher since recognizing and treating this condition is more difficult when the cancerous area is not easy to spot.
Hidden melanomas, according to the Mayo Clinic, sometimes develop under a toenail or fingernail. To spot possible hidden melanomas like this, look for bruise-like marks that would be visible through the nail. If a spot like this doesn’t go away after a month or two, have it examined. Melanoma can also occur in the eye. With this form no outward symptoms will be present, which is why it is a good idea to have your eyes examined periodically. Melanoma in these cases is believed to be caused by excess exposure to ultraviolet light.