A mnemonic is a memory aid. And while there are many mnemonics, including those we make up ourselves, few have saved as many lives as the one developed twenty five years ago at New York University.

The ABCDs of melanoma was created to help anyone evaluate changes in their moles for the purpose of recognizing melanoma at its earliest and most curable stage.  It was developed 25 years ago at the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at New York University of Medicine and it is now used by every organization concerned with early detection of skin cancers and in reducing mortality from malignant melanoma.

According to Science Daily,  a report by the original authors of the mnemonic in the September/October issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians confirms that knowing these signs for melanoma is still the best way to recognize the disease in its early stages.  Darrell S. Rigel, MD and colleagues say that “despite all the advances in melanoma diagnosis, timely recognition, detection and rapid treatment of melanoma remain critical.”

SunAWARE advice incorporates this mnemonic under “R- Routinely check your skin, understand the need for vitamin D and report any concerns to your health care provider.”  We have included it here to remind you to use it whenever you check your skin.

A – Asymmetry.  Draw an imaginary line down the middle of any mole and ask yourself if the two halves match.  Ordinary moles are usually round and symmetrical, while melanomas are often asymmetrical.

B – Border.  Ordinary moles are round or oval and have well-defined, smooth, even borders.  Melanomas often have irregular, uneven, or notched borders.  Also, pigment spreading from the border of the mole into surrounding skin is a warning sign of melanoma.

C – Color. Ordinary moles are usually one even color throughout and are most often brown, tan, or flesh colored.  If your mole has several colors – including black, brown, red, white, and blue – or an irregular pattern of colors, it may be melanoma.

D – Diameter.  Watch for a change in the size of your moles.  Ordinary moles are generally less than six millimeters (a quarter of an inch) in diameter, or about the diameter of a pencil eraser.  Melanomas may be as small as an eighth of an inch, but they are more often larger

E – Evolving.  While “E” for evolving is not part of the classic mnemonic, it is important to know that ordinary moles usually do not change over time.  A mole that changes in size, shape, shades of color, surface or symptoms may be a symptom of  melanoma.  If it tingles, itches, burns, or feels strange, it may be evolving and should be checked.

Other warning signs include a sore that does not heal or any change in the surface of a mole, such as scaliness, oozing or bleeding.  If you have melanoma, you may experience only one of the symptoms described above.  You do not need to experience all of these symptoms to have melanoma.  Any suspicious change in a mole should be evaluated by a doctor immediately.

Keep copies of the ABCDE’s of melanoma nearby when you perform routine body checks.  For visual aids of the ABCDs of melanoma visit the American Academy of Dermatology.

Be Safe. Be SunAWARE.

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