Recognize Changes in Your Moles
A mole or freckle that changes can be the first noticeable sign of skin cancer. People with large moles or lots of moles are at increased risk of developing skin cancer.
Remember the ABC's of changing moles. They may be the first signs of melanoma:
One half of the mole does not look like the other half of the mole. Melanomas are often irregular in shape, while benign moles are more symmetric in appearance.
If the border of the mole is irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined, melanoma should be considered. Benign moles usually have a smooth, definable border.
If a mole varies in color, this is concerning for melanoma. There may be different shades of tan, brown, and black. Sometimes there may even be shades of white, red or blue. Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan.
If the diameter of the mole is larger than 6 mm, this is concerning for melanoma. A diameter of 6 mm is about same size as a pencil eraser.
Benign moles do not change over time. A mole that changes in size, shape, color, or texture is a warning sign of skin cancer. In addition, a mole that tingles, itches, burns, bleeds, oozes, or feels strange is also a warning sign for skin cancer. Finally, a sore that does not heal is also concerning for skin cancer. ANY changes to ANY moles in ANY way should be evaluated by a doctor ASAP!
Tips on Making a Dermatology Appointment
1. Use your primary care doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner to direct you to a specialist. They have well established contacts. A phone call from them can usually result in an appointment with a specialist within the week.
2. Call the specialist’s office early morning in the morning (i.e. 9-10am) to ask if there have been any cancellations for that day. This requires you to be flexible and may mean leaving work or school early or arriving late to the appointment.
3. Realize that more than 90% of the time, the skin lesion is not life threatening and reassurance is all that is needed. Breath and do what you can to see a specialist in a reasonable time frame.
4. Educate yourself with reliable and patient friendly web sites such as the Skin Cancer Foundation (www.skincancer.org) or the American Academy of Dermatology (www.aad.org) regarding the signs and symptoms of worrisome lesions.
5. Discuss any problems about access with your dermatologist. Leaving a concerned message will result in a return phone call and some telephone triage.
6. If you are a high risk patient and don’t have a dermatologist, be proactive about finding one and getting yearly skin screening. You are your best advocate!
7. Perform a monthly total skin examination in a full length well lit mirror to familiarize yourself with your skin. In this way, you will better be able to assess any changes occurring in your skin. Here is an excellent resource that instructs you on how to do a skin exam: self-screening guide.
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