While general guidelines recommend performing self-examinations on your skin once a month, Erik Dunki-Jacobs MD, of the TriHealth Cancer Institute, says to be extra vigilant if you are in a high-risk category.
When performing a self-exam on a mole, follow the ABCDEs of melanoma, which include:
- Asymmetry: One half of the abnormal area is different from the other half.
- Borders: The edges of the growth are irregular.
- Color: Color changes from one area to another, with shades of tan, brown, or black, and sometimes white, red, or blue. A mixture of colors may appear within one sore.
- Diameter: The spot is usually (but not always) larger than 6 mm in diameter – about the size of a pencil eraser.
- Evolution: The mole keeps changing appearance.
How Often Should I have a Doctor Examine My Skin?
If you have a history of significant sun exposure, you should see a dermatologist to have them evaluate your skin. “If they feel like it’s something you should come back for on an annual basis, they can help set that up for you,” Dr. Dunki-Jacobs points out.
My Doctor Found an Irregular Mole: What’s Next?
If an irregularity is found, your doctor will perform a skin biopsy, which involves removing the skin and sending it to a lab for examination under a microscope. There are different types of skin biopsies. All or part of the growth will be removed.
A sentinel lymph node biopsy may be done in some people with melanoma to see if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
The next step would be to visit a surgeon or a surgical oncologist. “That lesion – even though it’s already been shaved and biopsied, would need to be excised completely,” Dr. Dunki-Jacobs explains. “The treatment for melanoma depends on the thickness of it, but it’s often a wide, local excision.”
I Have Melanoma: What's My Prognosis?
While melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, if you catch and treat it early enough, you could end the cancer for good. “Ninety-percent of these melanomas are thin, so with a surgery to excise the melanoma, or excise the lymph nodes [if the cancer has spread to this area], you can be cured of this,” Dr. Dunki-Jacobs MD explains.