May Blog: Recognizing Skin Cancer Early is as Easy as ABCD

In 1844, Samuel Cooper, a British surgeon, was the first to note that early detection and treatment was the key to melanoma survival. However, melanoma was first described in the fifth century in the writings of the Greek physician Hippocrates of Cos. The term melanoma was actually coined in 1804 by Rene Laennec (the inventor of the stethoscope) who called it melanose to describe the dark brown or black tumors characteristic of the disease. The term is derived from the Greek words melas “dark” and oma “tumor.”

Despite increased awareness of this deadly skin cancer, melanoma still accounts for 75 percent of skin cancer deaths and the National Cancer Institute reports that the incidence of melanoma has been increasing steadily for the past 30 years. Melanoma may begin with a mole, but it can also develop in other tissues containing the pigment melanin, such as the eyes, mouth and intestines. Current treatments for melanoma include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy and biological therapy. Usually, melanomas are dark brown or even black in color, and they also tend to have a distinctive, irregular shape, but this is not always the case. These cancerous growths may resemble ordinary moles or noncancerous lesions.

When the condition is detected in the early stages, the survival rate for melanoma patients is nearly 99 percent, but survival drops to just 15 percent when discovered in an advanced stage. Remember the easy ABCD rule when examining your skin for cancer – is the spot asymmetrical (one size doesn’t match the other; is the border ragged, blurred or poorly defined; is the color not the same throughout and are their shades of tan, brown, black red, white or blue; and is the diameter greater than 6 mm.

If you are out and about in the sun, make sure you use a sunscreen with UV-A and UV-B protection to shield from ultraviolet rays and choose a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Always apply sunscreen thoroughly and liberally and reapply every two hours. It’s important to not rely on sunscreen only; wear a hat, sunglasses, lip balm and other protective covering. Always consult with your primary care physician if you have any suspicious spots. Early detection saves lives.