Melanoma: Can You Spot It?

By Dr. Rick Morris,D.C., C.C.S.P., Q.M.E.


While cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States and malignant melanoma is increasing at a faster rate than any other type of skin cancer, caught early this type of cancer is nearly 100% curable. When not found early enough, it can be quite fatal.

Early detection is the key, but it requires an awareness and knowledge of what to look for. In fact, the yearly visit to the doctor is often not soon enough. Often, due to our familiarity with our own markings, we are better at spotting the “dysplastic” changes to our moles than our family doctor.

So here is a basic course on “melanoma hunting.” According to Allan C. Halpern, M.D., Chief, section of dermatology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, normal moles or “nevi” have certain characteristics. They are:

  • 5 mm or less in diameter.
  • Uniform in color throughout the mole (not necessarily compared to other moles on the same body).
  • Uniform in height and depth throughout the mole.
  • The shape is round to oval and its borders are distinct.
  • The shape, size, and color can change gradually over time, but at any one moment, the elevation and color are uniform.

In contrast, an abnormal mole will usually appear (moles with these “abnormal” characteristics found on the scalp, pubic or breast area are especially suspicious):

  • Larger than 5mm across.
  • Varied in color, depth or height within the same mole (e.g. when the center is raised there often is a flat periphery).
  • Indistinct borders (difficulty in telling where the mole beings and the other skin ends).

Exposure to sun is a risk factor, but not as important as a family history (two or more blood relatives having melanoma), or the number and size of your moles. Those of us with a greater number and size of moles are most at risk and should be more vigilant as are those with light colored eyes.

The areas most prone to melanoma are the middle back (between the shoulder blades), front of the trunk and legs (in females). It’s interesting to note that these areas receive only partial sunlight. The places that have the most sustained exposure to UV rays, like the face and neck, more commonly get other types of skin cancer according to Alfred W. Kopf, M.D. clinical professor of dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine. These include basal and squamous cell cancers which are far less dangerous. Still, sunscreen with a SPF over 30 is helpful and should be applied regularly when in the sun.

While sunlight, burning, blistering and being light skin are all factors, Dr. Halpern cautions against feeling secure because you have avoided these risks. Familial history and the number and size of moles on your body are far better predictors.

Regular self-examinations should be performed in natural or halogen light (to better show alterations in color). Photographs, to note any change in the character of a mole, as well as yearly or bi-yearly visits to your dermatologist (if you are in a high risk group) are essential parts of your longevity program. Anti-oxidants such as fresh fruits and vegetables and Vitamins C, E and beta-carotene may help prevent some of the carcinogenic damage.

While self-examination and cancer are all words that evoke fear, melanoma today need not be a cause of your death. Our patients will be made aware of simple things that will keep them healthy, strong and happy.

As always…pass this information along!



Rick H. Morris, D.C., C.C.S.P., Q.M.E., A.B.A.A.H.P.

1243 7th Street, Suite B, Santa Monica, California 90401
tel: 310-451-5851 | fax:310-458-0051
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.