If left unchecked, melanoma can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. Cancerous cells can travel through the lymph nodes to distant organs including the liver, lungs, bones, and brain, resulting in metastatic melanoma. Symptoms of cancer often appear only once it has spread, and treatment at this stage can be difficult. Therefore, identifying melanoma before it has a chance to metastasize is crucial.
Most melanomas are visible to the naked eye and spread slowly in the top layer of the skin. This often allows time for early detection, swift treatment, and full recovery before the cancer has a chance to spread to other parts of the body. The key is regular self-examinations. Check your entire body once a month, and get used to your pattern of freckles and moles. Have a close friend or loved one check places that are hard to see, like your back and scalp.
Many of us have birthmarks, freckles, and moles, and most of these spots are normal. However, some spots may be precancerous or an early melanoma. As a general rule, look for any changes in your normal pattern of freckles and moles. Changes can include new growths or changes to existing growths. You can use the "ABCDE" rule to help you identify those moles that potentially place you at risk and bring them to your doctor's attention.
A for Asymmetry - Risky moles are asymmetrical and irregularly shaped. In other words, if you were to draw a line down the center of the mole, the two sides would not match. Common moles are symmetrical, usually small and round.
B for Border - Early melanomas have an uneven border that can appear notched or scalloped.
C for Color - Common moles are typically one shade of brown or black. Early melanomas, on the other hand, can be varied shades of tan, brown, or black. As they progress, you may see other colors appear, such as white, red, or even blue.
D for Diameter - Common moles are usually small in diameter. Pay special attention to moles that are a fourth of an inch or more (about the size of a pencil eraser).
E for Evolution - Look for any changes in the appearance of a mole. Look for signs of growth, including changes in size, shape, and elevation. Also, pay attention to how the mole feels. If it begins to itch, burn, bleed, or release any kind of discharge, have it examined by a physician.