Expert Advice

How do I know if I have skin cancer?

Know Your ABCDEs

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer—as many as 20 percent of Americans will develop some type of skin cancer by age 70. Like most cancers, early detection is key to a good prognosis. You should always have a doctor, such as your primary care provider or a dermatologist, examine any skin abnormalities. But you can stay vigilant by doing self-examinations monthly. When checking your skin for abnormalities, remember your ABCDEs:

A – Asymmetry

Cancerous spots are often asymmetrical. If you draw an imaginary line through the middle of a spot or mole and notice that it is not the same on both sides of the line, take note of it, and ask your doctor to examine it further.

B – Border

Most moles have smooth edges. Skin cancer lesions may have jagged, scalloped or uneven borders.

C – Color

It’s normal to have brown freckles or moles that are a single color, but look out for spots that have more than one color—especially if they show shades of red, white or blue. Spots that stand out as much darker than the others surrounding it should also be examined.

D – Diameter

Spots or moles that are wider than ¼ inch (about the width of a pencil eraser), may indicate a growing cancer lesion.

E – Evolving

Any physical changes in skin spots, such as the size, shape and color, could be an indication of skin cancer. Tell your doctor if you notice that spots that were once flat have become raised, or if spots begin to itch or bleed.

Your primary care provider can screen you for skin cancer or provide a referral to a dermatologist. Make an appointment at (833) AHC-HLTH.

Matthew Painter, a nurse practitioner (NP) at Augusta Health Family Practice, Verona, was consulted for this article.