Are you at risk for skin cancer?

Are you at risk for skin cancer?

Discovering skin cancer early improves outcome: both cosmetically as well as prognostically.

Consider these statistics:

*One in five Americans develops skin cancer: over 4 million cases a year

*One person develops melanoma every eight minutes.

*One person dies every hour of melanoma.

Risk factors for skin cancer include genetic and environmental.


*Blond or red hair with blue or green eyes and freckling

*Family history of melanoma or pancreatic cancer

*Prior history of melanoma, as there is an increased risk for others to develop

*Family or personal history of atypical moles (multiple large and small moles or dysplastic)

*Individuals with over 100 moles.  Evidence supports an increased risk if you have 20 or more moles on the legs or 11 or more on your right arm.


*Prolonged ultraviolet exposure

*One blistering sunburn

*Ten or more visits to a tanning booth increases risk for melanoma

*Immunosuppressed individuals including transplants, on biologicals or chemotherapy

What does melanoma, the most dangerous of skin cancers, look like?

  1. Asymmetry: the mole is not symmetric as the two halves do not match
  2. Border: the border is irregular
  3. Color: the color is not the same throughout. There is variegation of color or black dots
  4. Diameter: larger than 5 millimeters or a pencil eraser
  5. Evolution: the mole is changing

Of all the features, ‘E’, a changing mole is the most important sign. Changing can be difficult to detect, so sequential photos and comparing side by side and overlaid are helpful

Other features that require attention:

*New mole: any mole occurring after the age of forty2005-05-24a_0070-1

*Ugly duckling mole: a mole that is totally different from others by either size or color

*Pink mole (see pink, stop and think)

*Painful or itchy mole

High risk individuals should be checked at least yearly by your physician with monthly self exams.  Mole mapping or total body photography has been shown to detect melanoma earlier and reduce the number of biopsies.

Being an advocate for your health can and will make a significant difference.

Gary Lichten, M.D.


Posted in Blog.