All About Melanoma Prevention, Symptoms, and Detection

If you are concerned about suspicious-looking moles or growths on your skin, you can learn more about melanoma prevention, risks, and detection here.

If you are concerned about suspicious-looking growths on your skin, you’re not alone. According to the American Cancer Society, roughly 96,480 new melanomas will be diagnosed in 2019. Knowing the difference between cancerous and benign spots, and seeing a dermatologist when you notice possible symptoms, is vital.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the cells that make pigmentation, or melanocytes. When not addressed early, melanoma can be very aggressive, even fatal. Melanoma may look like a new mole or an existing one that grows or evolves over time — this includes changing shape or size. It may itch, irritate the skin, or even bleed. It’s important to take note of the color of the mole, as it can become very dark or black with blurred or uneven borders.

Board-certified dermatologists Dr. Aradhna Saxena and Dr. David Kasper offer helpful information about melanoma symptoms and detection to make sure your skin is healthy for life. Yearly screenings at the Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute are essential, especially if you have a personal or family history of melanoma. To find out who is at risk for melanoma and how it can manifest, read below or schedule a private consultation with Dr. Saxena or Dr. Kasper in Greater Philadelphia, PA.

Melanoma prevention
First, let’s talk about melanoma prevention. How do you keep yourself from getting melanoma in the first place? This cancer most likely occurs when skin cells are damaged by UV exposure. This could happen as a result of repeated sun exposure or tanning beds over one’s lifetime. As a result, the cells mutate very rapidly, causing visible growth.

Most experts agree that the best protection against UV rays is a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply sunscreen to your face, neck, and any part of the body that is exposed to sunlight. Those jumping in the pool on a sunny day may want to try water-resistant sunblock. Parents should also remember to apply sunscreen to young children any time they play outside.

Another excellent melanoma prevention method is the help of a skilled dermatologist. Dr. Saxena and Dr. Kasper at the Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute recommend annual or biannual screenings at their facilities. In addition to annual examinations, patients in the Greater Philadelphia area can screen themselves at home with a self-evaluation. We suggest using a full-length or handheld mirror and keeping careful track of any freckles, spots, and moles on the body. If there is an area that is difficult to see, ask a close friend or family member to take a photo and show it to you.

Risk factors for melanoma
Now that we know how to prevent melanoma, you should know if you or a member of your family is at risk. Even though anyone can develop melanoma, those with a parent, sibling, or other primary relative with melanoma are at greater risk. Other risk factors include individuals who have:

A history of sun exposure or tanning bed use
A history of sunburns
A high number of moles, or large-sized moles on the body
Light-colored or red hair
Blue, green, or gray eyes

Melanoma detection
While most melanomas are dark in appearance, it’s not uncommon for them to be brown, tan, pink, or white. Check areas that are most often exposed to sunlight, especially the face and neck. The Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute in Fort Washington, PA, and Lansdale, PA, uses the tried-and-true "ABCDE" method to outline how to spot a potential melanoma.

A: Asymmetrical. One side of the mole may appear different or bigger than the other.
B: Borders. This includes moles with broken, irregular, or blurred borders.
C: Color. Melanomas are usually darker or multi-colored.
D: Diameter. Any mole larger than the size of a pencil eraser, or larger than 6mm.
E: Evolving. A melanoma typically grows or changes quickly over time.

Most moles are harmless and a natural part of the body. If you see anything suspicious, please reach out to a skilled dermatologist as soon as possible.

The next steps
Discovering a melanoma is unfortunate, but the compassionate staff at the Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute is here for you at every step. For patients who have melanoma, Dr. Saxena or Dr. Kasper will surgically remove it with a scalpel, along with some of the surrounding tissue. Since this form of excision is more invasive, we give you a local anesthetic so you can feel as comfortable as possible. This is an outpatient procedure and you are free to take over-the-counter painkillers at home afterward.

Dr. Aradhna Saxena is a fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon who specializes in screening and treating skin cancer, and Dr. David Kasper is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical dermatology including skin cancer. If you have noticed a recent or worrying change in a mole, we urge you to call today for an appointment at the Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute’s Fort Washington, PA, or Lansdale, PA, location.