“When patients ask me what to look for in skin cancer, I tell them that pink is the new black because so many harmless-looking pink lesions ultimately turn out to be melanomas,” says Dr. Lauren Cooper of Affiliated Dermatologists and Dermatologic Surgeons in Morristown, Mt. Arlington and Bridgewater. “Sometimes we biopsy skin-colored moles and freckles, and even we dermatologists are surprised that they are early skin cancers.”
It’s known as amelanotic melanoma, a serious and often difficult to diagnose type of skin cancer in which the cells do not make melanin or pigment. Because of this lack of color, diagnosis is tricky and is often delayed until the lesion becomes more prominent in an advanced stage.
“We try to identify these types of skin-colored melanomas early. Just as a baby doesn’t look like an adult, an early-stage, pink melanoma doesn’t always fit the typical description of an advanced melanoma,” says Cooper.
So what should skincare-savvy folks be looking for? “Skin cancer can form anywhere, especially on the face,” she says. “We worry about the ugly ducklings—moles, lesions and freckles that are larger than a pencil eraser head and look different than anything else you already have.”
Often these sneaky melanomas can remain flat for a year, unlike the large, ominous melanomas some might expect. Some forms of skin cancer even appear as a subtle smudge, and could be pink, red, brown, black or a combination of colors. But they will typically look unusual and will appear as a new spot on the skin, Cooper adds.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends scheduling an exam with a board-certified skin doc who will examine you from head to toe. An easy way to keep track of your annual appointment is to schedule a review of your birthday suit each year during your birthday month.
SAVVY SKINCARE TIPS
- Apply a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen, at least 50 SPF—on cloudy days, too!
- Reapply sunscreen when perspiring and when coming out of the water.
- Wear sunglasses and protective clothing. The bigger the hat, the better.
- Avoid tanning beds—ultraviolet light can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging.
Learn more at aad.org.