Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month

By Dr. Elyse Love

It’s Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month – Here’s How to Address and Identify on All Skin Tones with Tips from Dr. Elyse Love

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and each year 5 million people in the U.S. are treated for the condition but the signs and symptoms aren’t always easy to identify. Skin cancer describes a broad group of malignant conditions of the skin. The most common skin cancers are squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Less common skin cancers include mycosis fungoides, skin lymphomas, and merkel cell carcinoma. Identifying signs and symptoms of cancer can be tricky as skin cancer can have a varied presentation. Basal cell carcinomas often look like a pimple that persists and grows over several months to years instead of healing. Squamous cell carcinomas can look like scaly, persistent patches in sun exposed areas. Melanoma typically presents as a dark mole or dark streak within the nail, but they can also present as a flesh-colored growth.

Of the skin cancers, melanoma is often considered the most serious because of its potential to spread to other areas of the body and cause death. Sun exposure – particularly sun burns and tanning beds – are a major risk factor for developing melanoma, but melanomas can occur in people who do not have this risk factor. Melanoma is most common in skin types that burn easily, but melanoma can and does occur in all skin types – including the darkest skin tones. Although it is rarer, melanoma is often diagnosed later in darker skin tones and often has a worse prognosis. When it comes to identifying signs and symptoms, Melanoma can occur on any part of the body, including the oral mucosa, genitalia, and within the nailbed. Melanoma commonly presents as a dark, changing mole or a dark, irregular line within the nail. The ABCDEs of melanoma describe common appearances of melanoma. Any lesion that fits one or more of these criteria should be evaluated immediately. In addition, if a mole appears to look, feel, or behave differently than your normal background moles – we call this an “ugly duckling” – it should be evaluated by a board-certified dermatologist immediately. Because melanomas can be subtle, routine skin cancer screenings with a board-certified dermatologist are recommended yearly. Melanoma cure rates are related to the melanoma stage at the time of treatment. Stage 0, I and II melanomas are isolated to the skin and have an estimated 99% 5-year survival rate. Stage III melanomas have spread locally and have an approximate 74% 5-year survival rate. Stage IV melanomas have spread to distant sites and have an approximate 35% 5-year survival rate. There are many new treatments for stage IV melanoma that will hopefully continue to increase its 5-year survival rate. Source: National Cancer Institute

Since melanoma survival varies greatly depending on time to diagnosis, performing monthly self-skin exams to identify new or changing lesions and having a yearly skin cancer screening by a board-certified dermatologist can significantly impact survival if a melanoma occurs. Overall, steps and precautions can be taken to decrease the chances of developing skin cancer such as practicing sun safe behaviors. This includes above all preventing sun burns but also minimizing chronic non-burning sun damage. Ways to minimize UV damage include:

  • Avoid using tanning beds.
  • Minimize direct sun exposure during high UV index days, particularly between 10 am and 4 pm. You can check the UV index with your local weather or at
  • Wear UPF clothing for prolonged outdoor activity, particularly when sweating and/or exposed to water. UPF clothing acts like SPF but it does not need to be reapplied
  • Wear broad-spectrum SPF 30+ routinely to sun exposed areas of the body when exposed the sun

Reapply sun screen to sun exposed areas for every 2 hours of sun exposure and after high-sweat and water activities

In general, any lesion that is growing, changing, painful, and/or bleeding should be reviewed by a board-certified dermatologist. You should have a mole evaluated by a board-certified dermatologist if any of these are present:

  • Asymmetry: If one half of the mole looks different than the other half in shape or color
  • Border: If the edges of the mole are jagged or irregular
  • Color: If the mole has multiple colors, is very dark, and/or contains red, white, or blue coloring
  • Diameter: If the mole is larger than a pencil eraser (6 mm)
  • Evolution: If the mole looks different from other moles or is changing in size, shape, and/or color
  • Symptoms: If the mole is causing pain and/or bleeding

Since skin cancers can be asymptomatic, routine yearly skin cancer screenings are recommended. To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area visit Vaseline See My Skin dermatologist directory..