Too Small to Be a Melanoma? Think Again.

to err is human

A common screening measure for determining if a mole is skin cancer is if the size is larger than 6 mm in diameter. This corresponds to the size of a pencil eraser.

However, new research has shown that at least in one study 55% of the melanomas were actually smaller than 6 mm in diameter. Although the commonly cited ABCDE (asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolving) guide to determining if a mole is suspicious is helpful, it is imperfect.

Unfortunately, melanoma is actually becoming more common; in fact, according to the National Cancer Institute:

In the United States … the percentage of people who develop melanoma has more than doubled in the past 30 years.

The good news is that melanoma is the only deadly cancer that can be diagnosed just by examining the skin. If you have a new, changing, or suspicious mole, even if it is smaller than a pencil eraser, then have it checked as soon as possible by your dermatologist.

Even a small melanoma is a melanoma.

Photo credit: FCC, pj_vanf

My Acne is Better, It Must Be Winter

There are many factors that contribute to acne. Weather might be one of them.

Sunlight contains ultraviolet rays that damage hair follicles and induces sebaceous glands to produce excessive sebum. Hair follicles are very vulnerable to damage by external and internal stimuli.

This might explain in part why some patients’ acne is worse in the summer, when ultraviolet exposure is highest, and better in the winter when the sun’s rays are much less intense.

Farther Distances Lead to Thicker Melanomas

How far away is your dermatologist?

A recent study from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill published in the Archives of Dermatology showed that the farther a patient had to drive to get to a dermatologist, the thicker the melanoma at the time of diagnosis. They reviewed 615 cases of melanoma from patients in 42 counties in North Carolina and found that the thickness of the tumor (measured as the Breslow thickness) increased by 6% for every 10 miles traveled.

This is important because in melanoma, thicker cancers are more dangerous and more likely to have spread. Thin melanomas are usually cured by surgery alone; thick melanomas or metastatic melanomas are difficult to treat and can be life threatening.

Don’t let distance deter you. If you or a loved one has a new, suspicious, or changing mole, then hop in the car and have it checked. Even if you have to stop for gas on the way there.

MRSA, the Staph Superbug

What is MRSA?

MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to methicillin, an anti-staph antibiotic. MRSA is a particularly virulent strain that can cause a life threatening infection, especially in frail or immunocompromised patients. It is more common than we thought; data from the CDC showed that there were about 94,000 cases of MRSA in the US in 2005 with over 18,000 deaths, more than from AIDS. Continue reading “MRSA, the Staph Superbug”

Indoor Tanning Increases Your Risk of Cancer

Would You Like 10,000 or 20,000 Watts?

‘Tis the season for indoor tanning. Even some of my most educated, sophisticated patients think that a “little” sun tan is better than having “pasty white” skin. It isn’t.

One 2002 study by researchers at Dartmouth Medical School found indoor tanners were 2.5 times as likely to get squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times as likely to develop basal cell carcinoma as people who didn’t tan; the study didn’t analyze melanoma rates. Another report from Norway and Sweden followed women who regularly used tanning beds for eight years and found they had a 55 percent greater chance of developing melanoma than those who didn’t.

“Well, it must be better than actual suntanning,” you say.

… New high-pressure sunlamps emit doses that can be as much as 15 times that of the sun, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Your natural skin color, even if “pasty,” is beautiful.