LONG ISLAND, NY – The American Academy of Dermatology is pushing parents to learn the ABCDE’s of skin cancer to spot it in themselves and their kids. Great. I am a father of four. I realize that the enthusiasm for checking yourself or your kids for skin cancer is, to say the least, low on your list of priorities. That is until you find a melanoma on a husband’s back when they were sent to your office for a “wife check“. That is what I call the reluctant husband who comes to my dermatology office complaining that “the wife” made him come in. This happened to me last week and it is not the first time. Worse is finding it on a child.
Well, you say, why should I do that? First of all, if you find it early, your survival is almost guaranteed. If it grows just 1/32 of an inch deeper your survival plummets. If it is 1/4 of an inch and has spread, about 85% die within 5 years. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. One in 50 will get melanoma. What to do?
Well, as Ali G (Sasha Baron Cohen of the movie Borat) says, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself”. Learn the ABCDE’s of skin cancer. They’re easy. There will be a short quiz. Just kidding.
- A – Asymmetry – in other words if you folded the mole over like a pancake-does it match? If so, that’s a good sign.
- B – Border – it should be smooth and not ruffled or indented.
- C – Color – The color should be the same throughout. No variation.
- D – This is usually the diameter – greater than a pencil eraser in width (6 mm or 1/4 inch) is a concern. This is not quite so true though, as many melanomas or other skin cancers can be much smaller. D is also for an ugly “duckling”. One of these things is not like the others, like the Sesame Street song says. D is also for darker. They can be darker than the rest of your moles, but, sorry to say, some can have no color-an amelanotic melanoma. My dermatologist friend had his brother die from one of these on his scalp. His brother never showed it to anyone until it was too late.
- E – Is for evolving, or changing. If it is growing or bleeding or getting lumpy, get it checked!
F – Feels funny. This is my own creation. Many patients say it felt itchy, or painful, or had some other odd sensation. I almost always remove these.
The AAD has a free video “Can you spot skin cancer” (below) and a website called SpotSkinCancer.org where you can map your moles and find free skin cancer screenings.
Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of skin color. It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. When caught early, skin cancer is highly treatable. Through SPOTme®, the American Academy of Dermatology’s mission is to reduce the number of deaths from skin cancer in the United States by educating the public about skin cancer risk and providing free SPOTme® skin cancer screenings to catch and detect skin cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.
I recently volunteered at the Aspen Ideas Festival 2015 for free skin cancer screenings. Educated, wealthy people. We found plenty of skin cancers. I also do pro-bono work for the Mollie Biggane Foundation and the Collette Coyne Melanoma Awareness Campaign. Both had their young daughter pass away from melanoma.
Be enthusiastic and check your body. Maybe once a month. Check your spouse, fully undressed. What could go wrong? Check your kids. All over if you can. Wear sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, stay in the shade and stay out of tanning salons. See a dermatologist if you have a possible problem. Just go out at night. Sorry, just kidding.
We all enjoy a sunny day. Live life and enjoy yourself. Just do it smart. Your everyday problems will seem minor if you miss that skin cancer.
The SkinWizard, Theodore (Ted) J. Daly, MD, FAAD, FSPD, FASD, is in private practice in Garden City, NY (Garden City Dermatology) and is board certified in Dermatology, Pediatric Dermatology and Dermatopathology. He has been in practice for over 30 years.