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Catching Skin Cancer Early

(As reported 2/22/99)
A recent study shows that while many people are good about detecting cases of melanoma themselves, they are not as good about detecting them early enough, CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports.

If you have a mole that doesn't look quite right, don't ignore it. It could be melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

While melanoma may be small and painless, it is far from harmless. If left untreated, melanoma can be deadly. This skin cancer grows much faster than others, so early detection and treatment is important.

Melanoma usually begins with an irregular looking mole. Here are a few tips on what you should be looking for:

  • An odd, asymmetrical shape
  • An irregular border.
  • Varying colors.
  • A mole that has a diameter larger than a pencil eraser.
  • A mole that bleeds if you don't scratch it and does so easily.

It's a good idea to check yourself for moles like these once every few months.

Dermatologists recommend that you do so in the following order:

  • Examine your front, back, and sides in the mirror.
  • Look carefully at forearms, underarms, and palms.
  • Be sure to look at backs of legs, feet, and even between your toes.
  • Don't forget to search hidden areas such as the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror.
  • Finish by examining your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.

If you see any abnormalities or moles you're not sure about, see your doctor. It may not be cancer, but it's better to check and know for sure.

If detected early, melanoma is about 98 percent curable. Treatment depends on the type, size and location of the cancerous cells. The physician's goal is to remove the cells without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue. Most of the time, doctors do that with surgery, but in cases where that's not possible, radiation treatment may be used.

Reported By Dr. Emily Senay

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