Why are Dalmatians not good at hide and seek? It’s because they are always spotted (groan). We have spots or blemishes on our skin such as freckles and moles which, in many cases, pose no problem and can resolve on their own.  Sometimes, they can be signs of more serious conditions such as skin cancer.  According to the Canadian Cancer Society, there are a variety of skin cancers and all are named based on the cells from which they originate. Basal cell carcinomais the most common yet least likely to be fatal.  Squamous cellis less common but more dangerous.  Finally, melanoma is the least likely yet the most aggressive and most likely to be fatal.

Melanomas originate in the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives our skin its colour. When skin is exposed to the sun, the melanocytes make more melanin and cause the skin to tan or darken. Sometimes melanocytes cluster together and form moles (also called nevi). Moles are common and are usually not cancerous.

What causes melanoma?  There are certain risk factors which make a person more likely to develop melanoma: personal history; family history; fair complexion or freckles; having many ordinary moles; severe sunburn; and weakened immune system.  The largest modifiable risk factor for melanoma is the exposure to UV radiation.  Limiting our exposure to UV radiation by use of products such as suncreen and avoiding artificial sources such as tanning beds will reduce our risk.

Identifying melanomas early gives us our best chance for survival.  The most common location for melanoma in men is on the back and, in women, the leg but they can also appear on the arm, scalp or face.  The acronym ABCDE, endorsed by the Canadian Dermatology Society can be used to identify melanomas:

Asymmetry– the shape on one side is different from that on the other side
Border– the border or visible edge is irregular, ragged and imprecise
Colour– there is a colour variation, with brown, black, red, grey or white within the lesion
Diameter– growth is typical of melanoma. It can measure more than 6 mm, although it can be less
Evolution– Look for change in colour, size, shape or symptoms such as itching, tenderness or bleeding

Some researchers would add the letter “F” for Funny lookingto describe a mole that looks different from all the other moles on the body. Like many diseases, early detection and prevention are crucial. If you spot something that meets the above criteria, speak to your doctor or nurse practitioner as soon as possible. Enjoy what’s left of the summer and take care of yourselves and each other.