NDDA May 2023 Blog on Melanoma

The ABCDEs of Melanoma

By Shadi Damanpour, MD

Moles can change and grow over time, and in some cases, this can be a normal part of the aging process. However, if a mole grows quickly or changes in shape, color, or texture, it may be a sign of melanoma or another type of skin cancer. While at Northwestern University of Chicago, I specialized in melanoma and pigmented lesions and gained an interest in the early detection and treatment of skin cancer. Being informed about skin cancers can help reduce your risk of developing the disease and promote early detection. Read more about the ABCDEs of melanoma, risk factors, causes, warning signs, and treatment options.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the skin cells that produce the pigment melanin. It can develop anywhere on the skin. However, it commonly occurs in areas that have been exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, arms, and legs. Melanoma can vary in appearance, but the most common sign is a new or changing mole or skin lesion that is asymmetrical. The ABCDEs are essential to assess moles that can potentially be warning signs of melanoma.  However, not all melanomas follow these rules and some may be difficult to distinguish from normal moles.

What Causes Melanoma?

The exact cause of melanoma is not fully understood, but it may be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The primary environmental factor associated with melanoma is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. When the skin is exposed to UV radiation, it can cause damage to the DNA in the skin cells. This is the result of melanocytes that produce melanin. Over time, this damage can lead to mutations in the DNA. This mutation can cause abnormal cell growth and division, which forms melanoma. Other factors that may increase the risk of developing melanoma include having fair skin, a history of sunburns, a family history of melanoma, atypical moles, and a weakened immune system. Regular skin checks with a healthcare professional can aid in the early detection and treatment of melanoma.

What are the ABCDEs of Melanoma?

The ABCDE rule is used to assess moles or skin lesions that may be warning signs of melanoma.
A – Asymmetry: Melanoma tends to have irregular or uneven shapes. Pay close attention to moles where one half looks different from the other half.
B – Border: The edges of a melanoma may be blurred, ragged, or notched, rather than having an even border.
C – Color: Melanoma may have varied colors, such as different shades of brown, black, red, white, or blue.
D – Diameter: The size of the mole may be larger than a pencil eraser, but can be smaller than this.
E – Evolution: Any changes in the mole’s size, shape, color, or texture can be a warning sign of melanoma.
Other warning signs of melanoma can include:

  • A mole that looks different from other moles on your body
  • A mole that is itchy, painful, or bleeding
  • A mole that appears scaly or crusty

It is important to note that not all melanomas follow the ABCDE rule, and some may have different or less obvious warning signs. If you notice any changes in your skin, it is important to discuss them with your healthcare professional, who can evaluate them and recommend treatment options.

Can Melanoma Be Cured?

Melanoma can be cured if treated in earlier stages before it can spread to other parts of the body. However, the prognosis for melanoma depends on several factors. This includes the stage of cancer, the location and size of the tumor, and the person’s overall health. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy. These treatments depend on the stage and characteristics of the cancer. In some cases, a combination of treatments may be recommended. In advanced cases where the melanoma has spread to other parts of the body, treatment options may be limited. However, there are still options to manage cancer and improve quality of life. The goal of treatment in these cases is often to slow the growth of cancer and alleviate symptoms. Regular skin checks and early detection are key to improving outcomes for melanoma.

How to Prevent Melanoma
  • Limit exposure to UV radiation: UV radiation from the sun and tanning beds are the primary environmental risk factors for skin cancer. To reduce exposure, it is recommended to seek shade during peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), wear protective clothing such as hats and long sleeves, and use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Avoid tanning beds: Tanning beds use artificial UV radiation that can increase the risk of developing skin cancer. It is best to avoid tanning beds altogether.
  • Perform regular skin checks: Regular self-examinations of the skin can help detect any new moles that may be early signs of melanoma. It is recommended to have a healthcare professional perform a full-body skin check annually.
  • Know your risk factors: Having fair skin, a history of sunburns, a family history of melanoma, atypical moles, and a weakened immune system are all risk factors. Knowing your risk factors can help you take appropriate steps to prevent skin cancer.
  • Be mindful of medication side effects: Certain medications, such as immunosuppressants and some antibiotics, can increase the risk of skin damage. If you are taking medication, it is important to talk to your healthcare professional about any potential side effects that can put you at risk of skin damage with sun exposure.
  • Stay informed: Keep up to date on the latest recommendations for skin cancer prevention and early detection. Organizations such as the American Academy of Dermatology offer resources and guidelines for preventing skin cancers.
Skin Cancer Prevention at North Dallas Dermatology Associates

At North Dallas Dermatology Associates, we offer various resources and services to help prevent and detect melanoma. Here are some ways we approach skin cancer prevention.

  • Skin cancer screenings: we offer full-body skin cancer screenings to detect any suspicious moles or lesions.
  • Sun safety education: we provide patient education resources on sun safety practices.
  • Treatment of precancerous lesions: Some types of skin lesions, such as actinic keratosis, are considered precancerous and may eventually develop into melanoma if left untreated. At North Dallas Dermatology Associates, we offer treatments such as cryotherapy, chemical peels, or topical medications to remove these lesions before they become cancerous.
  • Mohs surgery: For melanomas or other types of skin cancer, we refer patients for Mohs surgery. It is a specialized surgical technique that involves removing the cancerous tissue while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible.
  • Follow-up care: After treatment of skin cancers, we provide follow-up care to monitor any new skin cancers.

Speaking with a healthcare professional about any concerns or questions related to skin cancer prevention and detection is important. Early detection and prevention are crucial to treating cancerous cells. Call our office today and book a skin cancer screening or an annual skin exam with our providers for all of your skin concerns.


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