ORLANDO, Fla.—There are different kinds of skin cancer, the one that we probably most hear about is melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Both are common and are almost always cured when found early and treated.  People who’ve had skin cancer once, are at risk for getting it again; they should get a checkup at least once a year.

If you notice any new growth, atypical spots, moles or lesions you must consult your physician. If you have moles or freckles on your skin, you will notice that most moles look similar, if you spot one that looks different should be considered a red flag.

One easy way to identify those that should be considered a concern is to learn its characteristics, associated with the alphabet. In other words, you need to learn your A-B-C-D-E.

Asymmetry – when the shape of one half of your mole does not look like the other half.

Border – If the borders are irregular in form or shape it could be a sign of Melanoma.

Color –  If your moles have only one color, that is considered normal, but a mole that has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white or red, is suspicious.

Diameter – A mole is suspicious if the diameter is larger than the eraser of a pencil.

Evolving – If your mole is shrinking, growing larger, changing color, begins to itch or bleed, see your doctor. Melanoma lesions usually change size or height rapidly.

Some changes that may not be harmful, yet could eventually become cancer as time goes by. The good news is that when cancer is diagnosed and treated early it can be cured. A common location for melanoma in men is on the back, and in women, the lower leg.

According to statistics, between 40% to 50% of people with fair skin will develop one skin cancer after the age of 65. If you find a mole or spot that has any ABCDE’s of melanoma — or one that’s tender, itching, oozing, scaly, doesn’t heal or has redness or swelling beyond the mole — see a doctor. Your doctor may want to remove a tissue sample from the mole and biopsy it. If found to be cancerous, the entire mole and a rim of normal skin around it will be removed and the wound stitched closed. Additional treatment may be needed.

Sun exposure is the biggest cause of skin cancer. But it doesn’t explain skin cancers that develop on skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. Exposure to environmental hazards, radiation treatment, and even heredity may play a role.

Some risk factors include:

  • Fair skin or light-colored eyes
  • An abundance of large and irregularly-shaped moles
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • A history of excessive sun exposure or blistering sunburns
  • Lived at high altitudes or with year-round sunshine
  • Received radiation treatments

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information based on data from the American Cancer Society, Florida has the second highest incidence of melanoma in the United States, with an estimate of 5,260 new cases in 2011. More than 600 Floridians die of melanoma every year; since 1975, the number of deaths among residents older than age 50 has almost doubled.

Remember, learn your ABCDE’s and if you find something suspicious, consult your physician.  Early detection is the key to success in its treatment.