Melanoma is the third most common type of cancer among Australians. According to the Cancer Council, by the age of 85, 1 in 13 men and 1 in 22 women would have been diagnosed with melanoma.
With almost 14,000 new diagnoses each year, the importance of early detection is clear and something each person should consider a priority. The earlier it is detected and diagnosed, the greater the chance of survival. Research shows that the five-year survival rate for stage 1A melanoma is 97%.
You are the number one advocate when it comes to making sure your skin is healthy. That’s why in this article, we want to share with you the different ways and steps required in a melanoma check.
Assess Your Risk
A practical place to start learning is with Molemap’s Assess Your Risk survey. It gathers a few details about you and your family history of melanoma and assesses your risk of skin cancer.
It also provides information on things you can do to keep yourself healthy and safe. The survey takes just a few seconds to complete. Begin your assessment here.
Examine Yourself for Melanoma
Once you’ve evaluated your risk, the next step is self-examination. Nobody knows your body the way you do, so what you observe will be an important part of detecting skin cancer early.
Your goal is to check for new, suspicious spots that may have signs of being cancerous. You should then take note of these irregularities and bring them to your doctor’s attention.
Moles, or nevi, occur when cells called melanocytes (they give colour to your skin), clump together in one area. Everyone has moles, and the average for one person is from ten to 40 nevi.
However, not all moles are the same. They vary in size, colour, and texture. You need to know what to look for when you check your skin. To make this easier, the medical community provides a guideline known as the ABCDE rule.
The ABCDE Rule
The ABCDE rule helps you assess if a skin spot may be suspicious:
- A - Asymmetrical shape. The average mole is a round dot, so it has good symmetry. When one half of the spot looks different than the other, it is asymmetrical.
- B - Border. During your self-examination, watch for moles that have irregular borders instead of clean, round ones. They might be notched, for example, or scalloped.
- C - Colour. Look at your existing moles to see if the colour has changed. Also, look for spots that have uneven colouring.
- D - Diameter. Any growth that appears to be more than six millimetres (or a quarter of an inch), about the size of a pencil eraser, needs to be further assessed.
- E - Evolving. See if they change in size, shape, colour, texture, or diameter over time. Take notice of things like itching or bleeding too. When melanoma grows in an existing mole, that mole may feel hard or rugged.
The second set of rules helps to identify a specific kind of skin cancer — nodular melanoma.
- E - Elevated. Spots of notched melanoma are typically raised on the skin.
- F - Firm. They feel firm when you touch them.
- G - Growing. These moles tend to expand quickly.
With this type of melanoma, the moles may have no colour at all and they may be symmetrical. What sets them apart is they will grow fast, which is a key indicator of notched melanoma.
Make self-examination a regular habit and keep notes on anything that concerns you. Take those notes with you when you see your doctor or when you see a Molemap melanographer.
Recommended article: The Molemap Guide to Checking Your Skin
How a General Practitioner or Dermatologist Checks for Melanoma
If you find something that concerns you, the next step is to make an appointment with your general practitioner (GP). The GP may opt to send you to a dermatologist if necessary. You may also directly book an appointment with a skin cancer detection and surveillance clinic. (You will learn more about this in the next section.)
Point out any spots that you noticed during your self-exams. If the medical practitioner agrees a spot is showing suspicious features , they will likely do a biopsy. In other words, they take a small sample of the skin to check for cancer cells. They may remove the spot entirely as part of the biopsy.
If you have a medium to high number of moles on your skin or you have a personal/family history of melanoma, the physician may give you a referral for a full body molemap, which is a surveillance program designed to monitor changes over time to catch melanoma early.
Recommended article: GP, Dermatologist, or Skin Cancer Clinic: Where to Get Your Skin Checked?
What to Expect With a Full Body Molemap
A full body molemap conducted by a melanographer is an effective way to find melanoma early. The surveillance program includes total body photography, a head-to-toe skin check, and taking dermoscopic images of your spots.
While performing the full body molemap, the melanographer will give you essential skin cancer education, including ways to help you reduce your risks of developing it.
The initial full body molemap provides a baseline to compare future checks and monitors for changes, which might indicate melanoma.
Melanoma is a complex cancer, and self-examinations and professional checks are an important part of protecting yourself from it. Melanoma is difficult to spot with the naked eye, which is why going to your GP and having a full body molemap are so crucial.
You might be surprised how easy it is to miss a spot even on parts of your skin you can see clearly. Don’t believe us? Take the Spot the Melanoma quiz and see how you do.