Recently, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in Dr. Oz’s Cancer Prevention Clinic. Helping people learn the warning signs of melanoma, a skin cancer with life-threatening potential, is a passion for me. About 3 years ago, I noticed a mole on my leg was becoming slightly darker. Although it did not look particularly worrisome, the dermatologist in me knew that any change in a mole was often the first sign that it could be dangerous. I had it removed by a colleague and it revealed the worst: malignant melanoma. Thankfully, my melanoma was in the earliest stages and completely removed with surgery.
For many people, there is a misconception that skin cancer is not dangerous. Nothing is further from the truth! Consider the following statistics from the Skin Cancer Foundation:
- Approximately 1 American per hour dies from melanoma
- Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in women aged 20-29
- In the past 2 decades, melanoma rates have more than tripled
- One in 55 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in their lifetime
How to protect yourself from invasive Melanoma? Be Proactive!
It is important to get familiar with your skin by performing a self-skin examination once a month. The best time to do the exam is either before or after the shower when the entire skin surface can be seen. Pay particular attention to what dermatologists call the “ABCDE” signs of melanoma:
Moles that are Asymmetric (one half looks different from the other), with jagged Borders, Color variation, Diameter larger than a pencil eraser (although melanoma can start much smaller than this) and are Evolving or changing.
Even though I have a sizeable scar on my leg, I am thrilled to report that to this day I am cancer-free. But this episode had a profound effect on me. A diagnosis of cancer has a way of making the nuisances of daily life seem less important and focuses attention on those things that are truly meaningful: family and friends. Beyond enriching my personal life, my melanoma diagnosis changed me as a doctor. The mole on my leg that turned out to be melanoma was not particularly scary-looking, and in fact, I had shown it to several other doctors who dismissed it as a “nothing.” However, it had changed. A changing mole is a dangerous one and always needs evaluation. By performing self-skin examinations on a regular basis, everyone has the power to detect changing moles and bring them to the attention of a doctor. When melanoma is caught in the earliest stages, it’s almost 100% treatable!