By Lara Evans Bracciante
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, April/May 2004.
While melanoma makes up only 4 percent of skin cancer cases, it is the most lethal type, accounting for approximately 8,000 deaths annually. Fortunately, there’s good news. Skin Self Examinations (SSEs) — a simple step-by-step, early detection approach — can reduce up to 63 percent of these deaths, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
The AAD recommends taking photographs of suspicious areas to determine a baseline so that you can effectively monitor any changes. The “ABCD” approach can then be applied:
· Appearance: Has a mole developed suddenly on previously clear skin, or has an existing mole changed its appearance?
· Border: Is the border of the mole asymmetric or jagged?
· Color: Is the mole uniform in color, or is it flecked with darker black and/or red areas? Has it changed color or become darker?
· Diameter: Has the mole grown in size or become raised? Is it larger than the size of a pencil’s eraser?
While answering “yes” to any of these questions may raise a red flag, it certainly does not confirm melanoma. But it is wise to have the mole checked out immediately by a dermatologist. Higher risk groups include those with a family history of melanoma, those who have suffered multiple sunburns and/or extended unprotected exposure to harmful UV rays, including tanning beds, those with fair complexions, and those with a large number of moles and/or unusual moles.
Once melanoma has spread to distant organs, the survival rate is only 12 percent. But when caught early before invading the deep layers of the skin, melanoma is nearly 100 percent curable.