The ABC's of Examining for Melanoma

May is Melanoma Awareness Month and Ambassador Brittany Snyder, a new grad Physician Assistant working in dermatology in NYC, shares the ABC’s of examining for signs of skin cancer.

Melanoma is an invasive, yet preventable form of skin cancer that affects the skin’s melanocytes, but can spread to other parts of the body. Roughly 100,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with melanoma per year and these rates are on the rise. Melanoma is more common in males, Caucasians, and aging populations. Although melanoma is generally more common in light-skinned patients, a subtype of melanoma called acral lentiginous melanoma, which commonly found on the palms and soles, is the most common form of melanoma in those with darker skin. Some other risk factors include red hair, immunosuppression, and having over 100 moles.

A majority of melanoma cases are linked to increased UV light exposure from tanning beds, blistering sunburns, and overall increased exposure to the sun; however, genetics does play a component as well. If you have a first degree relative, such as your parents or siblings, that has a history of melanoma, you should get full body skin examinations a minimum of once a year.

In dermatology, we follow the ABCDE rule:

A stands for asymmetry.

If you were to fold your mole in half, would it line up or is each side different?

B stands for border.

Generally, we are looking to see that your moles have a smooth border and no jagged edges.

C stands for color.

Your moles should all be the same color. If your moles is several colors or shades of brown, this warrants a trip to the derm.

D stands for diameter.

With 6mm, this is roughly the size of a pencil tip, generally being the cut off.

E stands for evolution.

Has your mole changed in the last few months or is it new entirely?

Tip: After getting home from your full body skin examination with your dermatology provider, go home and familiarize yourself with your moles to see what normal moles look like so that if any changes occur, you’re able to spot them right away! Early detection is extremely important with melanoma and leads to increased survival rates.

It’s never too early to start your annual skin cancer screenings and here’s what you can expect! Your dermatologist will check your skin from head to toe, including your mouth, eyes, and scalp as melanoma can occur in these areas too! Sometimes, a biopsy is needed to confirm or rule out a diagnosis, in which case, your provider will numb the area around the biopsy and take a little skin scrapping to send to the lab. The procedure occurs in the office and is over in minutes!

With melanoma being linked to UV light exposure and as we move into sunnier months, it is as important as ever to apply your sunscreen daily. When applying sunscreen to your face, you must use half a teaspoon to equate your protection to the SPF number on the bottle. I personally recommend SPF 30+ to all my patients. In addition to sunscreen, it is important to wear sun protective clothing such as a broad brimmed hat and protective shirts while at the beach.

As the saying goes in dermatology, “the only safe tan is a tan from a bottle”.


For more information, be sure to follow Brittany @pafanatic or on her blog.



In Bolognia, J., In Schaffer, J. V., In Duncan, K. O., & In Ko, C. J. (2014). Dermatology essentials



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