What signs should I look for with skin cancer?
This is part 3 of a series on skin cancer, which I am doing to honor my Dad, Ron Mitchell, who passed away recently from metastatic melanoma.
While this entire series on skin cancer is full of tons of information and it may be helpful in different ways, if you take nothing else away from this series, I hope you really understand and commit to memory the information on today’s topic. It is because someone knew this information or was aware of this information that my dad was even able to be present in my life-I had him in my life for almost 45 years thanks to this information! So when I say this is important, I TRULY mean this information is SO IMPORTANT! (If you missed my story about my dad, you can read that here…it also is worth your time).
If you don't have time to read, then click on the video below. It's short and sweet.
Today we're going to talk about the signs that you want to look out in regards to skin cancer. When I say signs I’m talking about looking at your skin and particularly looking at your moles. So the first point is that you actually have to look at your skin. Performing regular skin checks of your entire body (your scalp, your nails, and even places where the sun don’t shine). You actually have to look in order for the next piece of information to even be useful. This may mean that you have to have someone else look for you. What a bonding experience, comparing moles, lol. No but seriously. YOU HAVE GOT TO LOOK. REGULARLY. (you’ll understand the regular part in a minute).
So okay fine, you know you need to look, but what exactly are you looking for? So all you have to remember is ABCDE.
What does ABCDE stand for in regards to skin cancer?
A for asymmetrical
When you're thinking about a mole and if you were to divide it in half, is one half equal to the other half?
B for border
This kind of alludes to a little bit to asymmetry also but basically if it has a jagged or uneven borders
C for color
This refers more to whether the color is uniform or not. Does it change color within the mole? (and then again over time, is it changing colors as it grows)
D for diameter
Any mole larger than a pea or a pencil eraser (specifically ¼ inch diameter or 6 mm) is one to watch or be concerned about.
E for evolving
This means it is changing and showing more signs of the above. It could be a change in size, itching, bleeding, or any change.
One key again is that in order for you to know whether you have any of these signs, YOU HAVE TO LOOK! And then in order to know when something is evolving or there are actually changes, you have to regularly be looking. This is NOT a one and you’re done sort of thing. You need to be aware of any changes over time.
To see examples of these in visual form and to find out more information, click on this link at skincancer.org website:
What do I do if I identify a concerning mole?
So you’ve taken to heart what I’ve said and you’re performing skin checks. GREAT! And you found one you are concerned about. What do you do? This may be a “well duh”, but ideally you need to see an expert, a dermatologist who can determine for certain whether that mole is in fact really a concern. Depending on your insurance you may need to see your PCP (primary care physician also known as GP or general practitioner first). If you don’t have to do this step, I personally would go straight to the expert. Please don’t put this off! Once you see something concerning, make it a priority to have it checked. It’s better to know early and take care of it than not deal with it and things get worse. Knowledge is power, especially in this instance.
One thing to note is that yes the ABCDE is very helpful and can be life saving, but this is mainly helping with identifying melanoma. While the other skin cancer types are not quite as concerning as melanoma, they are still cancer and definitely need to be addressed. So the biggest key here is performing those skin checks regularly, identifying evolving changes and getting to an expert to determine what may (or may not) need to be done. This knowledge can be helpful to literally everyone you encounter. Check yourself, check your loved ones, you can even help a stranger if you notice something amiss. My dad owes half his lifetime to his barber, Harris. His barber first identified a concerning mole in his neck/hair line and told him, “Ron you need to have that checked.” I’m so thankful to Harris for speaking up and saying something to my dad. While I realize that not everyone will take what you say to heart, at least you said something and quite possibly helped someone else to live a long life. I’m also so thankful to my Dad for heeding Harris’ recommendation and taking action. Even by that point, when his cancer was staged, he was stage IV and given a 6 month prognosis. Can you imagine what it would have been had Harris not said something?!?!? Or my Dad had not listened and taken action?!?! I literally may not have ever known my Dad at all if these things didn’t occur.
What should I do if I have a family history of skin cancer?
I just want to take a minute to talk to those people who have a family history of skin cancer…when I say this, I’m also speaking to my own family and even myself. All of this information is even more important to you than to those without skin cancer. Remember from an earlier post that you are more at risk for skin cancer due to your family history. This really should be a non-negotiable but you guys (me too), you should be regularly seeing a dermatologist for annual skin checks. But do not rely on this only. You should also be doing regular skin checks yourself and go in early to your dermatologist if you see something concerning.
Lastly, this should be obvious. But I am not an expert nor claim to be one when I am speaking of this information on skin cancer. I am not a dermatologist. I am a physical therapist. Part of my education did include learning this information, for very good reason. As a physical therapist, I often am examining people when they don't have many clothes on and/or looking at areas that they themselves can't see. I also spend quite a bit more time with patients and clients than they do when they see either their PCP or their dermatologist. So by knowing this information, I can help my patients even beyond the realm of physical therapy but as an integrated part of their healthcare team.
I am just very passionate about this topic as it has personally affected me and in some ways forever changed my life. There are resources that have much more information than this blog post and they can be found here and which I used as resources to help with both the original videos and these blogs.
I hope you found this helpful. Please share this with someone who needs this information (which is basically everyone). I hope that if you work with people, particularly if you are involved in the service industry or working "on people" (think massage therapist, hair stylist, nail tech, even a tailor), please share this information with them as they too can help to identify these things in others and quite possibly save a life! So, is there anything new you learned in this post? Comment below and let me know what you think!
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If you missed any of the blogs in this series so far, you can find them here by clicking on the image below:
Can My lifestyle choices affect my cancer prognosis: a testimonial
What is the most common cancer? (likely you know the answer at this point but still lots of valuable information, so read it if you haven't already).
What are the risk factors for skin cancer?