How Spotting a Mole Can Save a Life

Stop Skin Cancer in Its Tracks

It’s crucial to know how to spot a possibly cancerous mole, as skin cancer is the most common type of cancer.

Through the Plexiglass

Did you hear the recent story about how a young future doctor saved the life of an NHL team’s assistant equipment manager? Nadia Popovici was at a Vancouver Canucks hockey game when she noticed an irregular mole on the neck of the assistant equipment manager for the Canucks, Brian Hamilton. With her background in nursing, Popovici was able to identify the cancer-like qualities of the mole and knew she had to notify Hamilton immediately. She banged on the plexiglass that separated them and held up her phone, where she had typed out, “The mole on the back of your neck is possibly cancerous. Please go see a doctor!” Hamilton shrugged it off at first but fortunately had the sense to get it looked at. It turns out Popovici was right—the mole was a type-2 malignant melanoma. After Hamilton got the mole removed, he reached out to Popovici, who the doctor said saved Hamilton’s life. “She didn’t take me out of a burning car, but she took me out of a slow fire. The words out of the doctor’s mouth were that if I ignored [the mole] for four to five years, I wouldn’t be here,” Hamilton said.

Spotting Skin Cancer

Moles are very common and usually benign. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, most adults have at least a few common moles that are typically harmless. However, certain types of moles and other factors, like family history, having had melanoma in the past, or having more than 50 moles, can increase your risk of developing skin cancer in the future. Monitoring moles for changes in size, shape, texture, and color and checking for new growths is an important part of the skin cancer screening process. In addition to protecting your skin from sun exposure, you should perform monthly self-mole checks to look for anything out of the ordinary, like changes to existing moles or new growths.

Melanoma can appear as a new spot or an existing mole. One simple way to determine if a mole might be cancerous is by using the ABCDE rule:

Asymmetry: the mole is irregularly shaped—one side doesn’t match the other.

Border: the edges are blurred or ragged.

Color: the color of the mole is not consistent throughout—ranging from shades of brown, black, pink, red or white.

Diameter: a cancerous mole is usually one-fourth of an inch or larger, roughly the size of a pencil eraser. 

Evolving: the mole is changing in color, shape or size.

The key is to identify melanoma early so you can begin treatment. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer, but it isn’t the only one. 

Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are more common than melanomas, but they are also typically more treatable. Both basal and squamous cell carcinomas can show up anywhere but usually grow on parts of the body that are most exposed to the sun, such as the face, head and neck. This is why vigilant sun protection is of the utmost importance.

How Coryell Can Help

The most proactive thing you can do is get yearly skin checks with your primary care provider or a dermatologist, such as our very own Dr. Russell Rowe. Your primary care physician can refer you to a specialist as needed.

Anyone fighting cancer deserves to be near loved ones, which is why we offer diagnostic imaging, laboratory services and a pharmacy to make the process more convenient for you. If you are concerned about skin cancer, call us today at (254) 865-2166. Story credit: The New York Times