Mole Watch-When to See Your Doctor for Melanoma

Dr. Monzur Haque

The weather is getting warmer and soon summer will be here. Have you ever wondered when is it time to go to the doctor for the mole on your skin?

As with any cancer, early detection, and identification of melanoma as a form of skin cancer are critically important, leading to earlier treatment and exponential increases chances of complete cure. Preventative measures you can take include performing regular skin self-exams and visiting your doctor for a dermatological evaluation.

Melanoma is a disease that arises from cancer cells that initially form the pigment (color) of the skin. Cells of this type mutated and resulted in uncontrolled growth. Melanoma can appear anywhere in the body, including the scalp, mouth, soles of the feet, and even under fingernails.

Self-examination of the skin forms the basis for identifying and monitoring atypical appearing moles. However, individuals at increased risk will undoubtedly benefit from a visit to the healthcare provider and having a complete skin assessment in a particular mole of atypical appearance. We use the ABCDE pneumonic to describe moles that might be suspicious and require surveillance or biopsy. ABCDE stands for asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolution (change).

Performing self-examinations in front of a full-length mirror in a brightly lit room is essential. It is helpful to have a family member check the scalp, back of the neck, or other areas that are difficult to visualize.

The following can be used as a guideline for self-examination as recommended by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO):

  • Examine the front and back of the entire body in a mirror, then the right and left sides, with arms raised.
  • Bend the elbows and look carefully at the outer and inner forearms, upper arms (especially the hard-to-see back portion), and hands.
  • Look at the legs and feet’ front, sides, and back, including the soles and the spaces between the toes.
  • Part the hair to lift it and examine the back of the neck and scalp with a hand mirror.
  • Check the back, genital area, and buttocks with a hand mirror.
  • If you suspect that some regions of skin are changing, take photos of the lesion(s) to look for changes over time.
  •  Cancer-bearing moles can often be very subtle and require investigation by a healthcare provider. If any of the suspicious features mentioned above are noted it is important to make an appointment at the clinic. It is highly recommended that at-risk individuals are evaluated by the healthcare provider at least once a year or as frequently as determined by the risk profile. These individuals include People with fair complexion, blond or red hair, blue eyes, and freckles. Additionally, the risk is higher for people whose skin tends to incur sunburn rather than a tan. Family history places an important role in melanoma. Approximately 10% of people with melanoma have a family history of the disease.

*Information presented is taken from the American Society of Clinical Oncology guidelines.

Editor's Note

Dr. Haque is a general surgeon at Woodlawn Health
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