What Is Melanoma and How to Detect It

What is Melanoma and How to Detect It
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World Melanoma Day falls on May 6th every year, but at ISDIN, our goal is to help spread awareness and protect our skin every single day of the year. In 2019, the American Cancer Society estimates that 96,480 new melanomas will be diagnosed, as rates of melanoma rise across the USA. Many of these cases are preventable through knowledge and early detection. So what is melanoma, and how can we work to reduce the number of cases diagnosed each year?

ISDIN spoke to Dr. Susana Puig, a world-renowned dermatologist in the field of diagnosis and treatment of melanoma and skin cancer. Dr. Puig explained how to perform a self-skin examination, when to go to a dermatologist for a check-up and how you can reduce the risk of melanoma.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is the most aggressive kind of skin cancer. The first sign of melanoma is often a change in the size, shape, color or texture of a mole. Many melanomas present with a bluish or black area. A melanoma can also present as a new mole, which may look abnormal when compared to ‘regular’ moles.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma: what to look out for

The key to detecting melanoma is by finding a new mole on the skin or noticing a change in size, shape or color of an existing mole. Another key sign is if a mole on your body looks different to others on your skin.

It is very important to examine every inch of the skin on your body regularly; this can help you identify any abnormal moles or marks.

A useful technique to detect melanoma is the ABCDE technique:

  • Asymmetry: the outline of one half of the mole is different to the other.
  • Borders: the edges are uneven, ill-defined or irregular.
  • Color: the color is uneven and can include black, brown and cinnamon-colored shades.
  • Diameter: its size changes, usually increasing.
  • Evolution: any changes in the mole in the last few weeks or months.

Other warning signs could be:

  • A wound that does not heal.
  • The color of the mole spreading from the edge of a mark to the surrounding skin.
  • Reddening or new inflammation beyond the mole border.
  • Change in feeling (itching, tenderness or pain).
  • Change in the surface of a mole (peeling, exudation, bleeding or an apparent protuberance or nodule).

If you detect any moles or marks on your skin with the above characteristics, visit your dermatologist for a skin examination and diagnosis.

How is a skin examination conducted at the dermatologist’s office?

Dermatologists can combine several techniques for a skin examination including digital dermoscopy, or a handheld dermoscopy.

How is a Skin Examination Conducted at the Dermatologist Office?

Healthcare professionals analyze all moles on the body, face and neck and interpret them with these diagnostic imaging techniques. It is important to examine the whole body, because sometimes melanoma can appear in places that are not easily visible. New computerized diagnostic systems can generate complete body maps as well as locate lesions and file the images. This helps to monitor the patient and detect minimal changes in their moles that may suggest that they are becoming malignant.

Although this may seem a very slow process, Dr. Susana Puig, with over 25 years’ experience in dermatology, told us that analyzing around 100 moles can take just one-and-a-half minutes.

Dermoscopy is an imaging technique to see structures that are not visible to the naked eye

“Dermoscopy is an imaging technique to see structures that are not visible to the naked eye. It magnifies up to 10× or 30× and prevents the stratum corneum from reflecting light so we can see deep into the skin. This improves diagnostic accuracy by 25%”.


When should you undergo a skin examination?

If you suspect a skin abnormality, such as moles that have changed, off-pink flaky lesions that do not heal (particularly on the head and neck), etc., you should go to your dermatologist for a skin examination.

Moreover, people with risk factors should go for annual skin examinations with a dermatologist: 

“People with a lot of moles, or a personal or family history of melanoma or skin cancer, should have a full skin examination with dermoscopy every year”.

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1 Comment
  1. I didn’t know that melanoma is the most aggressive kind of skin cancer. My sister recently found out that she might have melanoma, so my family and I are trying to learn more about it and raise awareness about it. I think that it would be smart to make sure that we are taking care of our skin and I think it might also be smart to get some melanoma awareness pins to help start conversations about it and help show our support. Thanks for detailing what melanoma is and how to detect it.

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