Knowing the ABCDE’s of Skin Cancer Risk

LSO Skin Cancer Detection Chart 590x443 Knowing the ABCDE’s of Skin Cancer Risk Photo

Photo credit: Lauren Savoy Olinde Foundation

While it may seem most relevant in the summertime, sun safety is important year-round.

Unfortunately, there are common myths around sun care, which can prove harmful if followed. For example, many people will assume they only need to apply sunscreen if they’re headed out during the peak hours of the day. Or, that it’s unnecessary to apply sunscreen on a cloudy day because there’s no real sun exposure.

These myths are not only harmful but emphasize common misconceptions about proper sun protection throughout the year.

One of the most vital components of sun safety is understanding your skin and performing regular (monthly) skin exams.

Performing a Self-Exam. When you perform a self-exam, be sure to look for any suspicious lesions or moles that look unusual. In the case of melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers, be sure to note any unusual growths or other alarm signals of skin imperfections. Moles don’t always have to be suspicious, but it’s good to develop an understanding of your skin and know when something is off.

So, how can you stay sun safe year-round? Use the ABCDE’s that dermatologists recommend to lower your skin cancer risk, and stay protected. Dermatologists rely on the ABCDE system to recognize early signs of melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer type.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, what do the ABCDEs stand for?

  • A – Asymmetry. This refers to moles looking asymmetrical – a malignant mole would have an asymmetrical outline, which is a potential warning sign for Melanoma.
  • B – Border. A benign mole has a smooth border, whereas a malignant mole has uneven borders around it.
  • C – Color. A benign mole typically has a consistent brown color, whereas a malignant mole can have multiple colors (everything from brown to black to red or even white or blue).
  • D – Diameter. A benign mole has a smaller diameter, whereas a malignant mole can have a diameter up to ¼ inch (note: sometimes a malignant mole can appear smaller at first).
    E – Evolving. A benign mole tends to look similar even as time passes, but a malignant mole can start to evolve or change over time. Look for any change in sizes, color or shape (or even itching, crusting or bleeding).

Consult a dermatologist. If you’re not sure about atypical growths or any troubling symptoms on your skin, it’s best to visit a dermatologist to ask follow-up questions. It’s generally recommended that you visit a dermatologist for regular skin exams.

  • Don’t have a dermatologist? Search Vitals to find a dermatologist near you.
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Want to do more research?

Read our Skin Cancer care guide and Metastatic Melanoma care guide for questions to ask a dermatologist, treatment options, and information about skin cancer and melanoma.