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Coupled with a yearly skin exam by a doctor, self-examination of your skin once a month is the best way to detect the early warning signs of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma, the three main types of skin cancer. Look for a new growth or any skin change.

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When a melanoma is detected at an early stage and treated, it is usually curable. Some melanomas are hidden in everyday life - by inconspicuous locations on the body; by clothing; even by hair on our heads. But many, if not most, melanomas can be spotted as soon as they arise - if you know what to look for and check for those signs.

The ABCD's of Moles & Melanoma

Most people have a number of brownish spots on their skin - freckles, birthmarks, moles. Almost all such spots are normal, but some may be skin cancers. Key warning signs of melanoma are shown below. Be alert to irregularities in shape, edges, color, and size. The ABCD's of melanoma are as follows: Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color variability, and Diameter larger than a pencil eraser.

Asymmetry: Most early melanomas are asymmetrical: a line through the middle would not create matching halves. Common moles are round and symmetrical.

Border: The borders of early melanomas are often uneven and may have scalloped or notched edges. Common moles have smoother, more even borders.

Color: Common moles usually are a single shade of brown. Varied shades of brown, tan, or black are often the first sign of melanoma. As melanomas progress, the colors red, white and blue may appear.

Diameter: Early melanomas tend to grow larger than common moles - generally to at least the size of a pencil eraser (about 6mm, or 1/4 inch, in diameter).

If you detect any of these warning signs, see a Board Certified Dermatologist promptly.

How Does a Mole Change?

In addition to checking out the ABCDs, you should watch for change.

Size: The mole suddenly or continuously gets larger.

Color: A wide variety of colors or color combinations appear. Color might spread from the edge into the surrounding tissue.

Elevation: A mole that was flat or slightly elevated increases in height rapidly.

Surrounding skin: The skin around a mole becomes red or develops colored blemishes or swellings.

Surface: A smooth mole develops scaliness, erosion, oozing. Crusting, ulceration, or bleeding are signs of more advanced disease.

Sensation: Itching is the most common early symptom, and there may also be feelings of tenderness or pain. Nonetheless, remember that skin cancers are usually painless. Look for a new growth or any change in color, size or bleeding of a skin lesion.

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