The ABCDE's of Skin Cancer

Learning the ABCDE rule of skin cancer can save your life

Doctor inspecting mole
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Knowing the ABCDE's of skin cancer can potentially save your life. 

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells. There are three major types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

Where Skin Cancer Develops

Skin cancer develops primarily on areas of sun-exposed skin, including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands, and on the legs in women.

But it can also form on areas that rarely see the light of day — your palms, beneath your fingernails or toenails, and your genital area.

Cells involved in skin cancer

Skin cancer begins in your skin's top layer — the epidermis. The epidermis is a thin layer that provides a protective cover of skin cells that your body continually sheds. The epidermis contains three main types of cells:

  • Squamous cells lie just below the outer surface and function as the skin's inner lining.
  • Basal cells, which produce new skin cells, sit beneath the squamous cells.
  • Melanocytes — which produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its normal color — are located in the lower part of your epidermis. Melanocytes produce more melanin when you're in the sun to help protect the deeper layers of your skin.

Where your skin cancer begins determines its type and your treatment options.

The ABCDE's of Skin Cancer

Checking your skin for suspicious changes can help detect skin cancer at its earliest stages.

Early detection of skin cancer gives you the greatest chance for successful skin cancer treatment.

A- Asymmetry:

Normal moles or freckles are completely symmetrical. If you were to draw a line through a normal spot, you would have two symmetrical halves. In cases of skin cancer, spots will not look the same on both sides.

B- Border:

A mole or spot with blurry and/or jagged edges.

C- Color:

A mole that is more than one hue is suspicious and needs to be evaluated by a doctor. Normal spots are usually one color. This can include lightening or darkening of the mole.

D- Diameter:

If it is larger than a pencil eraser (about 1/4 inch or 6mm), it needs to be examined by a doctor. This includes areas that do not have any other abnormalities (color, border, asymmetry).

E- Elevation:

Elevation means the mole is raised above the surface and has an uneven surface.

When to See a Doctor:


Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any changes to your skin that worry you. Not all skin changes are caused by skin cancer. Your doctor will investigate your skin changes to determine a cause.

Reference:

Mayo Clinic. Skin Cancer. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/basics/definition/con-20031606

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