Early detection key to surviving skin cancer

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May is National melanoma/skin cancer detection and prevention month. The Department of Dermatology at the Walla Walla Clinic in conjunction with the Providence St. Mary Regional Cancer Center would like to educate you regarding signs you can use to detect skin cancer in its early stages.

More than 8,000 Americans are expected to die of melanoma this year. We know from experience that detecting skin cancer in its earliest stages means better cure and survival rates.

We want you to know about the ABCDEs of melanoma.

A stands for asymmetry (one half is different than the other half.)

B for border (irregular, scalloped or poorly defined.)

C for color (varies from one area to another. Shades of tan and brown, black, sometimes white, red or blue.)

D for diameter the (size of a pencil eraser or larger.)

E for evolving (a mole that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.)

If a mole exhibits any of these characteristics, it should be brought to a clinician's attention. It is not unusual for people to wait until a melanoma has grown significantly to see a clinician and unfortunately that sometimes means the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

The American Academy of Dermatology has a tool called the Body Mole Map that individuals can use to track their moles. Free downloads of the Body Mole Map are available at www.melanomamonday.org. Melanoma can be on the skin for a long time before it "misbehaves" and gives patients a clue that it may be a lesion that needs to be addressed. People who check their skin regularly looking for the warning signs of skin cancer and take note of any changes are more likely to spot skin cancer in its early stages before it spreads.

I encourage patients to involve a family member or partner in skin exams, which can help people thoroughly examine their skin. Men, don't ignore your wife's concerns regarding that lesion on and your skin. And women, don't ignore your hairdresser. She/he sees your scalp on a regular basis and may be the first to notice many skin cancers. I see lots of skin cancer that would be ignored, but for the urging of the spouse/partner, etc.

Please don't ignore your skin, the largest organ of your body.

Dr. Jeffrey Stiles is a dermatologist at the Walla Walla Clinic.

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