I was wrong about my mole
I always thought I had a pretty good handle on my ABCDs. It was “E” that was the trouble, until I was diagnosed with melanoma.
In December 2015, I was shaving my legs when I noticed a mole on the outside of my left knee. It had been there forever, but it suddenly looked darker than I remembered. And yet it was symmetrical, had an even border, was all one colour and had a small diameter, so I told myself it was fine. I figured I’d get it checked out when things slowed down and I had more time.
The ABCDEs make ups the checklist for moles: Asymmetry, border, colour, diameter and evolution.
When I finally saw my family doctor three months later, she was reassuring. “It’s probably nothing to worry about,” she said. Still, she booked an appointment for me to see a dermatologist just to be safe. It turns out that the “E” I’d forgotten about stands for “evolving” and, when it comes to skin cancer detection, it’s the most important letter of all.
Dr. Lisa Kellett, a Toronto dermatologist, took one look at my mole and did a biopsy right then and there. The results were back within a week: It was stage one malignant melanoma. “You’re a good example of how skin cancer doesn’t always meet the ABCD criteria,” Dr. Kellett told me. “But change, including when a new mole appears, is an important factor to be aware of.”
Skin cancer rates have been rising in Canada for some time now and account for one-third of all new cancers. There are more new cases each year than the number of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined – more than 80,000, to be exact.
The problem is that people aren’t protecting themselves, says Dr. Kellett. One of the biggest myths surrounding the disease is that it only happens to old people (her youngest patient with skin cancer is eight). “Those who are good at sun protection are the ones who already have skin cancer,” she says. “I tell 20-year-olds, ‘Look you have to be more careful or you’ll see the side effects [of photo-aging] in 20 years. However, many state that they won’t care in 20 years how they look. The kicker is that patients in their 40s and 60s say the exact same thing. I tell them all, ‘Trust me, you will care.’”
Keep reading for the unexpected side of skin cancer.
- This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Best Health with the title, “Save your skin.” It’s been nominated for a 2018 National Magazine Award in the category of Service Journalism.