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Does Melanoma Always Appear as an Atypical Mole?

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, both in the United States and around the world. About 9,500 women, men, and (rarely) children are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer in the US every day.

Melanoma only accounts for 1% of total skin cancers in the US but is responsible for most of the deaths. According to the American Cancer Society, this most dangerous skin cancer kills almost 5,500 men and 3,000 women per year.

At Specialists in Dermatology, our dermatologists offer skin cancer screenings at our offices in The Woodlands and Houston, Texas. As part of Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May 2024, we also recommend that you conduct monthly self-exams of your skin and moles, looking for the ABCDEs that could indicate an atypical and possibly cancer mole or lesion:

But do the ABCDEs identify every type of melanoma? Or can some melanomas slip under your radar?

Most melanomas don’t start as moles

Though it’s still important to examine your skin and your moles, don’t neglect non-mole changes to your skin. Although melanomas that develop from moles exhibit the ABCDEs listed above, only about 30% of melanomas start as moles

The vast majority of melanomas appear on normal skin. That’s why it’s important to put sunscreen on all areas of sun-exposed skin, even areas that have no moles, freckles, or hyperpigmentation.

Always alert your dermatologist if you notice a new lesion or mark on your skin, particularly if it’s evolving, bleeding, or has other characteristics of the ABCDEs. We evaluate your skin changes to make sure you aren’t in the early stages of skin cancer, or — if you are — we remove the lesion to keep your skin cancer-free.

Melanomas may be colorless

To confuse matters, some melanomas don’t follow the ABCDE mnemonic at all. Instead, they spontaneously arise as pink spots or bumps. You may even mistake melanoma for a pimple or a rash.

If you notice a new pink or colorless bump on your skin, pay attention. If it looks different from the surrounding skin, or has uneven borders, or if it grows, you should let us know. Anything unusual on your skin, particularly if it persists, should be evaluated by your dermatologist.

You aren’t safe if you never had sunburns

When you learn that having five or more sunburns in your life doubles your risk for melanoma, you may feel safe. However, even though a history of sunburns increases your risk, being sunburn-free doesn’t lower it to zero.

You can develop melanoma even if you’ve never had a sunburn. You can even get one if you never damaged your skin via suntanning or a tanning bed.

About 30% of melanomas aren’t related to sun exposure. They can develop in areas such as your eyes, mouth, and genitals. Genetics are thought to play a part in non sun-related melanomas.

Treated melanoma has great survival rates

After all this bad news, here’s a ray of (non-cancerous) sunshine: When caught and treated early enough, melanoma has a five-year survival rate of 99%. In fact, if we find any type of skin cancer, we remove it with a specialized treatment called Mohs surgery that cures your skin of the cancer.

Have you noticed new bumps, lesions, or changing moles on your skin? Book a skin cancer screening or mole evaluation today by calling our friendly team or using our online form. If you’re in The Woodlands or Houston, Texas area, there’s a Specialists in Dermatology office near you.

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