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The ABCDE skin cancer rule

Dr. Andrea Abbott, surgical oncologist and Director of the Cutaneous Malignancy Program at MUSC.
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Dr. Andrea Abbott, surgical oncologist and Director of the Cutaneous Malignancy Program at MUSC.

This week Bobbi Conner talks with Dr. Andrea Abbott about the ABCDE skin rule, to help identify potential signs of melanoma and other skin cancers. Dr. Abbott is a surgical oncologist and the Director of the Cutaneous Malignancy Program at MUSC.

TRANSCRIPT:

Conner: I'm Bobbi Conner for South Carolina Public Radio with Health Focus here at the radio studio for the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. The ABCDE Skin Cancer Rule is a way to help people spot the potential sign of melanoma. Doctor Andrea Abbott is here to provide the details. Doctor Abbott is a surgical oncologist and Director of the Cutaneous Malignancy Program at MUSC. Doctor Abbott, what's the potential impact for a patient when melanoma skin cancer is detected and treated earlier rather than later?

Dr. Abbott: The goal of early detection is to decrease the amount of therapy that is needed. The range for treatment could be something as simple as removing that spot in your dermatologist’s office if caught early enough. Or, it can be larger, meaning that you need a bigger surgery and maybe even additional therapies for treatment.

Conner: What is the ABCDE rule that can help us monitor any skin changes that might be important to report to our doctor?

Dr. Abbott: So, taking it back to kindergarten: A is for asymmetry. That means one half of the spot does not look like the other. B is for border. So ,if you're looking at your mole and it looks scalloped or in a starburst pattern, and the border is not well defined like a circle. C stands for color. And that means there's color variation within that mole. Maybe part of it is brown. Another part might be red or blue. That should trigger you to think this is not normal. D is for diameter. So, think about the top of a pencil eraser. That's six millimeters. A mole that's growing bigger than that is something that should be checked out by your physician. E stands for evolving. That means that that lesion might have started out uniform in color and small and circular. And now it's changing and it doesn't look the same. And last, but not least, look at your whole body. If there's one mole that doesn't look like the rest, that's something you should pay attention to.

Conner: And how frequently should we be doing a self-check on our skin to look for any of these possible changes?

Dr. Abbott: Well, I think it's easy. Every day we look at ourselves in the mirror and so something might stand out to you. But I think what's more common is that someone else who maybe hasn't seen you for a while notices something on your leg or the back of your arm and someone says, oh, that doesn't look right. That should trigger you to go have that evaluated. In general, we recommend an annual skin exam by a professional provider who is used to doing skin exams. And if you've had a history of melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer, you probably have to go more frequently.

Conner: If a person does see one of these types of changes in their skin, is it important that they consult their physician right away?

Dr. Abbott: I tell people if something new shows up on your skin, take a photo and then check it again in a week. Is it changing? Is it getting worse? And then do one more week? And if it's looking like it's progressing, it's growing in size. It's bleeding, it's itching, it's getting more concerning to you. That's when you should make the appointment. I think it's important to point out everyone worries about melanoma, but basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer are much more common. And, the majority of people will find out they have one of these lesser aggressive skin cancers as they get older. So, think about making sure that any new spot is getting evaluated by your dermatologist.

Conner: Doctor Abbott, thanks for this information about skin cancer.

Dr. Abbott: Thank you so much.

Conner: From the radio studio for the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, I'm Bobbi Conner for South Carolina Public Radio.

Health Focus transcripts are intended to accurately represent the original audio version of the program; however, some discrepancies or inaccuracies may exist. The audio format serves as the official record of Health Focus programming.

Bobbi Conner has been producing and hosting public radio programs for over 30 years. She was the longtime host of the national Parents Journal public radio program. Conner has lived in the Charleston area for over twenty years.