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Skin Cancer

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Skin Cancer Symptoms continued...

The majority of malignant or cancerous melanomas are brown-to-black pigmented lesions. Other signs of a cancerous melanoma include:

  • A change in size, shape, color, or elevation of a mole
  • The appearance of a new mole during adulthood, or new pain, itching, ulceration, or bleeding of an existing mole

The following easy-to-remember guideline, "ABCDE," is useful for identifying malignant melanoma:

  • Asymmetry -- One side of the lesion does not look like the other.
  • Border irregularity -- Margins may be notched or irregular.
  • Color -- Melanomas are often a mixture of black, tan, brown, blue, red, or white.
  • Diameter -- Cancerous lesions can be larger than 6 mm across (about the size of a pencil eraser), although with early detection they will not reach this size.
  • Evolution -- has a mole changed over time?

 

When to Seek Medical Care for Skin Cancer

Many people, especially those who have fair coloring or have had extensive sun exposure, periodically check their entire body for suspicious moles and lesions.

Have your primary health care provider or a dermatologist check any moles or spots that concern you.

See your health care provider to check your skin if you notice any changes in the size, shape, color, or texture of pigmented areas (such as darker or a change in areas of skin or moles).

If you have skin cancer, your skin specialist (dermatologist) or cancer specialist (oncologist) will talk to you about symptoms of metastatic disease that might require care in a hospital.

Exams and Tests for Skin Cancer

If you think a mole or other skin lesion has turned into skin cancer, your primary care provider will probably refer you to a dermatologist. The dermatologist will examine any moles in question and, in many cases, the entire skin surface. Any lesions that are difficult to identify, or are thought to be skin cancer, may then be checked. Tests for skin cancer may include:

  • The doctor may use a handheld device called MelaFind to scan the lesion. A computer program then evaluates images of the lesion to indicate if it's cancerous.
  • A sample of skin (biopsy) will be taken so that the suspicious area of skin can be examined under a microscope.
  • A biopsy can almost always be done in the dermatologist's office.

If a biopsy shows that you have malignant melanoma, you may undergo further testing to determine the extent of spread of the disease, if any. This may involve blood tests, a chest X-ray, and other tests as needed. This is only needed if the melanoma is of a certain size.

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