Seven tips for spotting melanoma

Detecting it early before the cancer has spread deeper into the skin is crucial. According to the Cleveland Clinic, melanomas have a 99 per cent cure rate if caught in the earliest stages.

“If primary melanomas are caught early, then patients tend to have very good outcomes,” says Professor Chris Bakal of the Institute of Cancer Research in London. “If it hasn’t spread, and it’s caught at the earliest stage, then cure rates lie between 80 and 100 per cent, usually just by surgery without the need for chemotherapy or immunotherapy.”

What does a melanoma look like?

Jenny Noble points out that they can range greatly in size, shape, thickness, colour and location on the body, although there are some general trends.

“Classically, melanomas would appear as a dark or pigmented spot on the skin,” says Noble. “However they can sometimes present as pink, flat areas where the diagnosis is not immediately obvious. They usually occur in sun-exposed skin but can also occur in parts of the body which are usually covered up, as well as under fingernails or toenails and in the eye.”

Susanna Daniels says that overall, men and women tend to get melanomas in different areas. “For men they’re more likely to get them on their trunk, perhaps due to sun damage from walking around with no top on,” she says. “And for women it’s more likely on their legs.”

Melanoma experts refer to what is known as the ABCD rule – where A stands for Asymmetry, B for Border Irregularity, C for Colour and D for Diameter – when it comes to identifying whether a spot or discoloration on the skin might be cancerous.

“If one side is much bigger than the other then that’s asymmetry,” says Daud. “If the border is broken in some places or the colour is very different – either a lot lighter or darker – than the other moles you have on your body, then those are warning signs. Finally when it comes to the size, most moles should not be larger than half a centimetre, like the size of a pencil eraser. If it’s bigger than that, you should probably have it seen by a dermatologist.”

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