Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays appears to be the most important environmental factor involved in the development of skin cancer. People with fair complexions, who burn easily in the sun and freckle easily are at greatest risk for skin cancer and skin damage from the sun’s rays. While the risk is lower, skin cancer can also occur in individuals with darker complexions, including those of African descent.
Clinicians and dermatologists often use the “ABCDE” approach as an effective means of detecting suspect moles and skin lesions.
The ABCDE signs of melanoma are:
- Asymmetry: One half of the mole is different from the other half.
- Border irregularity: The spot has borders which are not smooth and regular but uneven or notched.
- Color: The spot has several colors in an irregular pattern or is a very different color from the rest of one’s moles.
- Diameter: The spot is larger than the size of a pencil eraser (6 mm).
- Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, color, or overall texture. This may also include new bleeding.
Bleeding, burning, or itching may indicate melanoma but a lesion that is evolving quickly is one sign that a mole is not behaving in a benign manner.
These guidelines can be helpful, but real problem is that many normal moles are completely symmetrical based on their color or shape. This can mean that many spots which have one or more of the ABCDE’s end up being in fact just an ordinary moles and are not melanomas.
Some melanomas fail to have color or be raised above the skin. As a rule, melanoma is not painful unless traumatized. They sometimes itch, but this has no diagnostic or prognostic importance.
Research strongly suggests that an individual may have a great deal of control in minimizing his or her chances of developing cancer. This would include consuming an abundance of foods from plant-based sources and avoiding habits like smoking. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly also may play a role in preventing cancer, as can reducing or eliminating the amount of red meat in the diet. Protecting the skin from the sun, especially during peak hours, and drinking alcohol in moderation, if at all, may also help lower the risk. Individuals can also take steps to protect their home environment from risk factors such as chemicals, radiation, and industrial pollutants. Regular screening may catch precancerous changes in cells, and chemoprevention may be the appropriate strategy for some people.
While there is not yet one magic bullet to prevent all cancer, individuals can take positive steps to help minimize the risk of cancer. Living a healthy lifestyle—as well as getting proper screenings, protecting oneself from overexposure to the sun and toxins, and choosing chemoprevention if one is at high risk—may well be our best strategy in the war against cancer.
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