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If you see this on your skin, see a doctor because it may be skin cancer.

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If you’re like many people, you have an assortment of brown spots, freckles, growths or moles on your skin. So how do you know when something is harmless or when you need to get it checked out? Knowing how to spot the signs of skin cancer can go a long way in keeping you healthy, especially if it’s melanoma. This is the most aggressive type of skin cancer.

Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin, even in places that aren’t typically exposed to the sun. In women, the most common place for melanomas to occur is on the legs. In men, it’s on the torso. But be sure to check your entire body, even between your toes.

The good news is that most things you’ll see on your skin are no cause for alarm. But being able to identify when something might be melanoma can help you get treatment as soon as possible. And this is very important because the 5-year survival rate when melanoma is detected early is 99 percent. The survival rate drops to 68% if the disease spreads to the lymph nodes and 30% if it spreads to other organs, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

“With summer approaching, sun protection is crucial to reduce your risk of skin cancer. Sun protective clothing, such as a long sleeved shirt and a hat, are my go to when out fishing or at an LSU baseball game.”

-Joshua M. Pitre, MD, FAAD, Dermatologist

Melanoma Warning Signs

When looking for warning signs of melanoma, remember the acronym ABCDE.

A – Asymmetry. A melanoma is not usually equal on both sides if you split it down the middle. In contrast, most benign moles are symmetrical.

B – Border. The borders of a melanoma are often uneven. They may have notched or ragged edges. As a comparison, the edges of most benign moles are smooth and even.

C – Color. A melanoma may have different colors, such as brown, tan, black, red, white or even blue. But a benign mole is usually only a single shade of brown. If a mole is darker than other ones on your body, it’s also a sign that it may be a melanoma.

D – Diameter. If a spot or growth is the size of a pencil eraser or larger, it should be checked out. This is about a quarter inch in diameter.

E – Evolving. If anything about a spot on your skin changes, such as the size, shape or color, it may be a sign of melanoma. If the area starts to grow, swell, itch, crust or bleed, that’s also a sign that you should get it checked by a doctor.

If you notice any of these signs, or if you see something that seems unusual, have it checked by a dermatologist as soon as possible. The earlier melanoma, or any type of skin cancer, is detected, the earlier it can be treated and the more likely you won’t experience further complications.

Keep in mind that melanomas don’t always look exactly the same on all people so they may not follow these exact rules. Get in the habit of examining your skin monthly. See a dermatologist once a year for a full body check. If there are any spots on your skin that concern you or that you’re unsure about, it’s better to be safe than sorry and have them checked out by a dermatologist.

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Date Last Reviewed: March 16, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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