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According to a recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, patients should be aware of moles that change over time in size, shape, symptoms, surface, and/or color, as these changes may be a sign of melanoma.

Melanoma is a type of cancer that originates in cells of the skin. Melanoma is considered a very deadly type of cancer once it has spread past the site of origin. However, if melanoma is caught and treated prior to spread, cure rates are high. Typically, melanoma that has not spread is treated with surgical removal of the cancer, as well as a surrounding area of healthy tissue. Individuals with fair skin, freckles, a strong family history of melanoma, or those who have spent a lot of time unprotected in the sun are advised to visit a dermatologist regularly for the screening of melanoma so that it may be caught and treated as early as possible.

As the incidence of melanoma continues to increase, healthcare providers are placing much emphasis on patient education to increase the likelihood that patients will notice a suspicious mole on themselves. The acronym ABCD, devised in 1985, remains a popular motive in a patient’s understanding of what to look for in terms of a possible melanoma. ABCD stands for Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color variation, and Diameter (greater than 6 millimeters), as properties of a mole that may indicate melanoma. Patients who notice any mole that fits any of the descriptions of ABCD should make an appointment with a dermatologist.

Researchers from New York and Australia recently conducted a study to determine if any other properties of a mole, besides the properties of ABCD, may be indicative of melanoma. The study included the review of relevant information through the Cochrane Library and PubMed between 1980 and 2004. The data retrieved indicated that moles that changed (evolved) over time in size, shape, color, symptoms (such as itchiness or tenderness), and surface (such as bleeding) are a concern in terms of the potential of being a melanoma, and should be added to the ABCD acronym. The data also re-affirmed that all original properties of the ABCD acronym are indicative of a potential melanoma.

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The researchers concluded that the evolving (E) of a mole should be added to the acronym ABCD to make ABCDE the official acronym for causing and detecting a potential melanoma. Patients should inspect their skin periodically for any moles that may have ABCDE characteristics, as well as see a dermatologist to monitor skin changes.

Reference: Abbasi N, Shaw H, Rigel D, et al. Early diagnosis of cutaneous melanoma. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2004; 292:2771-2776.

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