Melanoma is a rare form of skin cancer that makes up for about 1% of all skin cancer diagnoses and according to The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal, causes about 8,000 deaths each year. In 2023 nearly 187,000 cases are estimated to be diagnosed in the U.S 98,000 of them invasive. 

Because May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness month, we put together a quick and easy guide to help you better understand the most dangerous form of skin cancer: Melanoma.

Melanoma develops from melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin pigment in our skin, and is most commonly caused by intense sun exposure that results in a sunburn. If left untreated and allowed to progress, it can spread to other vital organs which at that point can be fatal. They often resemble moles and may arise from already existing moles, so make sure to get a skin check every year. Atypical moles, or Dysplastic Nevi, are pigmented spots that are different from common benign moles and can resemble melanoma. Although most of them will never become malignant and turn into a melanoma, they have a higher chance of doing so compared to ordinary moles. People with atypical moles also have a higher chance of developing melanoma, whether it is within the atypical mole itself or somewhere else on the body, and those with 10 or more atypical moles are 12 times as likely to develop melanoma.

Of course, not all of us are familiar with how melanomas or atypical moles present themselves on our bodies, so how can we tell if a pigmented spot is alarming or not? Though these tips won't make you a dermatologist, the ABCDE’s of Melanoma are definitely a good place to start!

A- Asymmetry

  • Most melanomas are asymmetrical whereas common moles are typically round and symmetrical. 

B- Border

  • Melanomas have uneven borders that appear jagged or scalloped, common moles have smoother, more even borders. 

C- Color

  • Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan, however melanomas can have multiple different colors and shades such as brown, black, or tan.

D- Diameter

  • If the spot has a diameter of ¼ inch or is larger, that is a warning sign to get it checked out. For reference, that is about the size of a pencil eraser.

E- Evolving

  • Any new changes to the spot including change in size, shape, and color, or any new symptoms associated with it such as bleeding, crusting, change in texture, itching, etc. is a warning sign

This fun little mnemonic is useful, however it is best to go to a board certified dermatologist who trained in identifying melanoma and other skin cancers. Melanomas can be safely removed and cured if found early before it metastasizes. Melanoma patients are highly encouraged to repeat skin checks every 3 months as they are likely to develop another melanoma in their lifetime. As for everyone else – annual skin checks are important for early diagnosis and safe practice, so make sure to make it part of your yearly health check-up. Also, never underestimate the power of a good SPF. Prevention is key, and the best way to reduce sun damage is by using sunscreen daily. As featured in the New York Post, one of Dr. Hayag’s favorite sunscreen is the EltaMD UV clear for daily coverage because “it contains niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and lactic acid to promote healthy-looking clear complexions.” Get your yearly skin exams and be sure to take all the preventative measures.