Melanoma skin cancer is a much more serious form of cancer, but most of it also is diagnosed at an early stage when it is easier to treat.
Dr. Pandelidis says, "Usually melanomas are not subtle. Its usually an ugly-looking mole and people just have a hunch that they should get it looked at. To recognize a mole that may be a melanoma, I always like to remember the ABCD's -- A for asymmetry, B for border irregularity, C for different colors like black and blue, and D diameter, greater than six millimeters which is about the size of a pencil eraser." (See photo below for examples of melanoma on the left vs. healthy-looking moles on the right)
He emphasizes that its easy for any well-trained family physician to remove a mole and send it to a pathologist to find out what it is. "If you don't like the way something looks, you go see your doctor, you say 'I'm worried about this,' and the doctor will look it over, and if there's cause for worry, he or she should remove it."
Unlike basal cell and squamous cell cancer where the problem is cumulative exposure to the sun, melanoma is more related to severe episodic exposure. "I've learned that many of my patients with melanoma, but not all of them, they have a memory of a severe, severe sunburn," Says Dr. Pandelidis. "In my mind its really very simple: don't get sunburned and whatever you can do not to get sunburned is what you need to do- wear clothing, sit under an umbrella, use sunblock and wear a hat. There's no better sunblock than clothing."
And, don't forget the importance of reapplying the sunblock and remembering to put it in places like on your ears and the top of your feet which are places that everyone on occasion gets sunburned. Because, he's seen melanomas in those places. "I tell people that there is nothing wrong with a healthy suntan. What is a problem is a severe sunburn, a severe blistering sunburn you know, a peeling kind of sunburn," he says.
He adds, "I find people who tan and have melanoma, I kind of say 'hey that's a strong message to you.' Its kind of like if you smoke and you get lung cancer, you probably ought to quit smoking. Ditto with melanoma and tanning or any skin cancer for that matter."
Click here for a series of "Ask the Expert" videos of Dr. Pandelidis answering questions about skin cancer. He answers questions like "Are babies more at risk for skin cancer?" and "Why is melanoma on the rise?"
Learn more about skin cancer and what you need to know
Skin cancer, suncreen and UV safety
7 tips for keeping your baby safe in the sun
Summer sun safety for cancer patients
A melanoma survivor's Amazon adventure
Bev Centini's melanoma story
Read an Expert Journal blog about skin cancer warning signs and prevention.