The reason for the sunscreen season is skin cancer prevention. And the most serious skin cancer is melanoma, which will be diagnosed in more than 70,000 people in the next year. Not every skin cancer is a melanoma, but melanomas are the skin cancers that require the most vigilance. That’s because when they are caught early, they are very treatable—but if they are caught at an advanced stage, the five-year survival rate is as low as 20 percent.
The standard reminders of what to look for when checking yourself for potential melanomas are the trusty ABCDs:
- A—moles that are asymmetrical
- B—moles with an irregular border
- C—moles with uneven color
- D—moles with a diameter larger than a pencil eraser
But now there’s a new addition to this alphabet: E for evolution. “That means any mole that is changing in appearance or size,” says Michelle Pavlis, MD, a Duke Health dermatologist who specializes in melanoma. A mole that is changing could be a key to catching melanoma before it reaches an advanced stage.
There are some people who have a higher likelihood of melanomas; in fact, about half of all melanomas occur in just 1 to 5 percent of the population. These are people who have more than 100 moles on their bodies; those who have a family history of melanoma; and those who have been diagnosed with atypical moles.
All moles are new at some point, especially in young adults, so a new or an enlarged mole is not necessarily a melanoma.
“Everyone makes moles a little differently,” Pavlis says, so the key is to look for changes: a new mole that doesn’t look like your other moles, or a mole that is changing in its characteristics.