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July 2008 Issue
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Hugh Gloster, MD, examines the skin of a patient. His recent research stresses that all people are at risk for skin cancer, regardless of skin type.
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Concerned About That Scary-Looking Mole? 'ABCs' Can Help Point You Toward Treatment

By Amanda Harper
Published July 2008

Recognizing precancerous moles could be as easy as remembering your ABCs.

Lana King, a nurse practitioner with the UC dermatology department, says there is a simple way to remember how to check for the warning signs of dangerous moles: Follow the ABCDE guidelines.

Recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology, these guidelines for detecting worrisome moles include:

Asymmetry—One side of the mole does not match the other

Border—The mole’s border is ragged, blurred or irregular

Color—Coloration is not the same throughout the mole; for example, the mole may have shades of tan, brown, black, blue or white

Diameter—Moles larger than a pencil eraser should be checked

Elevation—Most moles are flush with the skin, so elevation is a warning sign

Moles occur when melanocytes, the skin cells responsible for skin pigmentation and color, grow in a cluster versus spreading evenly throughout the skin. These dark brown or black spots normally appear during the first 20 years of life and can darken during pregnancy or puberty and with sun exposure.

"Moles are sometimes more of a cosmetic concern than a medical one," says King, who performs skin cancer checks. "Moles that look different than other existing moles or appear after age 20 are the ones that should cause medical concern."

King says people should have their moles checked regularly— particularly if there is a difference in the mole’s coloration, height, size or shape as it could be a sign of cancer. Bleeding, oozing, itchiness, scaling and tenderness in the mole are also clear warning signs that something may be wrong.

"People should pay attention to their skin and have changes checked by a dermatologist or dermatology professional as soon as possible," she adds. "Skin cancer is a serious problem in the United States, but if it’s caught early, it is also very treatable."

There are three types of skin cancer: melanoma, an aggressive form that grows in the melanocytes, and non-melanoma basal and squamous cell cancers, both of which occur on the outer layer of the skin.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1 million people are diagnosed with sun-related non-melanoma skin cancers.

"The best thing a person can do is wear sunscreen every time you are exposed to the sun—whether it is for half an hour or all day—and engrain those smart sun-safety habits into your family as well," King adds.

UC dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 to 30, applied every two to three hours any time you’re spending time out-side—even on overcast days. Other good sun-safety habits include:

  • Avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when its rays are most intense.
  • Wearing protective clothing that’s comfortable, but not see-through. The sun’s rays can penetrate clothing.
  • Wearing a hat that shades your face, ears and neck while you’re walking outside, driving in your car or sitting by a window.
  • Using sunglasses that protect from UV radiation. Many can effectively filter out 99 percent of harmful UV rays.

For appointments with a UC dermatologist or nurse practitioner, or for more general information, call (513) 475-7630.


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