Self-Checks Critical to Spot Recurring Melanoma
Melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer, so it is very important that you take steps today to catch any occurrence early.
Melanoma develops when unrepaired DNA damage occurs within the skin cells, triggering mutations that lead to rapid malignant growth. Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure – frequently leading to sunburn – especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease.
If melanoma is recognized and treated early, it has a good chance of being curable. But if it is allowed to grow and spread, it can be hard to treat and potentially fatal. In fact, melanoma kills an estimated 10,130 people in the US annually.
Researchers from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and the University of North Carolina cannot emphasize enough the importance of regular skin checks – but not just in an office by a doctor. Their most recent data suggests that your own skin checks, done regularly, could be the single most important self-care routine one can do to catch melanoma in its early stages.
Their data suggests that 40% of melanoma recurrence cases were caught by self-checks, whereas only 30% were caught in scheduled doctor exams and 26% found in routine imaging tests.
"Patients need to be aware of all of their symptoms and their body. But it's also important for physicians to educate patients as to what to look for and what symptoms are a cause for concern," study co-author Dr. Adam Berger, a professor of surgery at Thomas Jefferson University.
"Patients should examine their skin and the area where lymph nodes would be on a monthly basis. And if they have a symptom that doesn't go away after two or three weeks, it should be brought to a physician's attention, because that is an indicator that the melanoma has come back," he added.
What are melanoma warning signs?
Per the Skin Cancer Foundation, just remember your ABCDE’s:
• Asymmetry – a benign mole is not asymmetrical, meaning if you were to draw a line down the middle, the two sides match. If they do not, it could be a warning sign for melanoma.
• Border – a benign mole has a smooth, even border. Melanoma borders tend to be uneven – they may even look scalloped or notched.
• Color – Most benign moles are all one color, often a single shade of brown. Having a variety of colors (black, brown, tan – or even red or white) is a warning sign.
• Diameter – benign moles are usually smaller. Melanomas may have the diameter of a pencil eraser (6mm or ¼ inch)
• Evolving – Benign moles look the same over. When it starts to change in any way (size, shape, color, elevation, bleeding, itching), it is time to see a doctor.
You may also want to monitor for what is known as the “Ugly Duckling Sign.” This is when one mole looks or feels different than the ones that surround it.
Journal of the American College of Surgeons
Skin Cancer Foundation
By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons