Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Will you know it when you see it?

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of protecting yourself from the sun so you don't get skin cancer, and the importance of spotting it early.

Today, I want to share some further tips for preventing skin cancer, and give you information about how to identify it so you'll know it when you see it.


The best way to lower the risk of melanoma (or any other form of skin cancer) is to avoid too much exposure to the sun and other sources of UV light.

  • Avoid being outdoors in sunlight too long, especially in the middle of the day when UV light is most intense.
  • Protect your skin with clothing, including a shirt with long sleeves and a hat with a broad brim.
  • Use sunscreen and lip balm. They should have an SPF factor of 15 or more (I recommend SPF 30 or better). Apply the sunscreen correctly. Many people do not use enough--a palmful is best. Put it on about 20 to 30 minutes before you go outside so your skin can absorb it. And you should put it on again every two hours. Use it even on hazy days or days with light or broken cloud cover. Don't stay out in the sun longer just because you're using sunscreen as that defeats the purpose.
  • Wear sunglasses. Wrap-around sunglasses with 99%-100% UV absorption give the best protection.Avoid other sources of UV light such as tanning beds and sun lamps.
  • Be especially careful about sun protection for children. Teach your children to protect themselves from the sun as they get older. People who suffer severe, blistering sunburns, particularly in childhood or teenage years, are at increased risk of melanoma.

You should also keep an eye on any moles you have, since skin cancer often begins with a 'normal looking' mole. Statistically speaking, men are more likely to develop skin cancer on their back or torso, while women are more likely to get it on their legs.

While we know where men and women are more likely to get skin cancer, it's important to note that you can get skin cancer anywhere on your body, even places that you've never had a sunburn. Since your skin is really a single organ, a sunburn on one part of your body can cause cancer to develop on another part of your body.

Check suspicious moles with your doctor and have them removed if needed.

What does "suspicious" mean?

Spots on the skin that change in size, shape, or color should be seen by a doctor right away. Any unusual sore, lump, blemish, marking, or change in the way an area of the skin looks or feels may be a sign of skin cancer.

A normal mole is most often an evenly colored brown, tan, or black spot on the skin. It can be either flat or raised. It can be round or oval. Moles are usually less than 1/4 inch in diameter, or about the width of a pencil eraser. Moles can be present at birth or they can appear later. Several moles can appear at the same time.

Once a mole has developed, it will usually stay the same size, shape, and color for many years. Most people have moles, and almost all moles are harmless.

Sometimes, Change Is Not Good

It is important to recognize changes in a mole-- such as its size, shape, or color-- that suggest a melanoma may be developing. You should see your doctor if you have a mole or growth that worries you. Your doctor may have you see a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin problems. There are methods that help doctors tell the difference between a harmless growth and one that might be cancer. Using these methods could mean that a biopsy is not needed.

Know Your ABCD's

The ABCD rule can help tell a normal mole from a melanoma:

A asymmetry-- one half of the mole does not match the other half.
B border irregularity--the edges of the mole are ragged or notched.
C color--the color of the mole is not the same all over. There may be shades of tan, brown, or black, and sometimes patches of red, blue, or white.
D diameter --the mole is wider than about 1/4 inch (although doctors are now finding more melanomas that are smaller).

Some melanomas do not fit the descriptions above, and it may be hard to tell if the mole is normal or not, so you should show your doctor anything that you are unsure of.

I repeat: When in doubt, have it checked by a doctor or dermatologist. It took my doctor all of 2 seconds to know that my mole was trouble.

And, once again, check out the American Cancer Society's site for the full scoop.