Saturday, March 19, 2011

My skin cancer script: what I tell patients 40 times a day on how to recognize skin cancer

Moles are like stars.

And patients are like constellations.

And the number of these lesions is like the number of stars in the universe.

There is no way to see every mole, document every mole, or even have every mole examined by a dermatologist.

So patients play an important role in skin cancer diagnosis and recognition.  Teaching and educating patients on discovering these lesions is essential.

We have to make melanoma astronomers out of our patients.

So here's what I say:

1) "The most sensitive sign for a melanoma is a mole that is changing in size and color -- not specific, but sensitive.  So call me if you see a mole you are concerned about that is changing in size or color."

2) "Look for 'ugly ducklings.' That is, don't focus on your moles as individual lesions -- rather look at them as a group.  Look for moles that are ugly ducklings and don't look like their neighbors.  If you see one of these ugly ducklings, then bring it to my attention."

3) For non-melanoma skin cancer:  "You don't need to see me every time you get a pimple.  But if you get a non-healing wound or sore that lasts longer than six weeks, then we probably need to take a look."

The three steps are simple, but they represent good advice in finding skin cancer, particularly melanoma, early.

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