Skin cancer has been on my mind a lot lately. My aunt died at the age of 29 from Melanoma, family members have caught skin cancer early, and our editor, Amanda, constantly battles skin cancer daily.
Amanda is a Melanoma survivor, but just because they caught it early doesn’t mean she is in the clear. Over the past year, Amanda has repeatedly found new moles and marks on her body, and even though some of them appeared completely normal and not within the ABCDE’s. Each time she has been told that what her dermatologist scooped was found to be in the stage just before turning cancerous. Some have even been found where she can’t see and caught by her gynocologist. This is scary and I can only imagine the paranoia that sets in with every new spot that appears.
I know I have beauty marks and moles on my body that look weird. However, the last time I inquired about them with a doctor, I was told it is a 9-12 month wait to see a dermatologist in my area. So instead of waiting 9 months to be told that maybe it’s just nothing (because I tend to worry about everything), I essentially did nothing about it. The more I talk to Amanda, the more I realize I should probably try finding a dermatologist, whether I have to wait or not.
Not having quick access to a dermatologist, is what led me to write this post as I look at my skin daily and wonder: are those beauty marks, moles or skin cancer? So I asked some leading dermatologists for some guidance.
To start, when examining unusual spots, Dr. Purvisha Patel, owner and dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology & Skin Cancer Associates recommends looking out for the following signs of melanoma:
- Asymmetrical shape that melanoma is known for
- Irregular borders around the spot
- Multiple colors, such as blue, black, brown and tan
- A diameter at least the size of a pencil eraser
- Change in color or size
However, one thing that Amanda has told me is that many of the spots she had her derm look at recently did not exhibit any of these things. Dr. Babar Rao, Founder of Rao Dermatology and Director of NIDIskin Consulting, explains that any mole that exhibits a change in its size, shape, or color should definitely be examined by a medical professional, especially if it becomes painful or itchy. Personally speaking, I have what I consider a beauty mark on my toe. One day about 8 years ago, it suddenly appeared as a small spot. Now, years later it is elongated. It’s not painful or itchy and it still remains flat, but I often wonder if this is a problem mark. The above picture is one of the marks I have on my leg that I feel is questionable, as well.
For most patients with unusual spots, derms tend to biopsy often to err on the side of caution. However, something that Dr. Rao uses is called a VivaScan. This is a non-invasive optical biopsy that can assess skin lesions for patients of any age. Non-Invasive Diagnostic Imaging of the Skin allows the dermatologist, in this case Dr. Rao, to test more lesions quickly and painlessly, and catch more cancers that would otherwise go undetected, all without having to physically biopsy each and every spot. This is amazing, especially for people like Amanda who will battle this disease for the rest of her life. She has to constantly be vigilant.
As someone who knows that monthly facials are a necessity, not a luxury, I wondered how often esthetician’s spot changing marks on a spa goer’s face. According to Liliana Aranda, who is an Oncology Esthetician, estheticians tend to be “first screeners.” If you see the same esthetician regularly for your facials, he/she will notice changes in your skin and bring them to your attention for further discussion with your doctor. According to Ms. Aranda, they also see the arms, legs, back and chest, and estheticians will always ask their clients about moles or marks that were not present from the previous appointment. (I don’t know about you, but I think this life-saving benefit alone totally validates getting spa treatments each month!)
Almost all skin cancers are curable if diagnosed early. So if you notice changes in your skin, it is worth looking into. You should be doing a monthly skin cancer self-exam, and better still you can always snap a pic of a mole or mark each month to note any changes. This is also extremely helpful to provide your derm when you have your yearly appointment. I know for myself, I plan to make an appointment with a dermatologist and finally get these moles and marks checked out.