The American Cancer Society reports that roughly 1 in 50 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma—the most-deadly form of skin cancer—in his or her lifetime. Despite this risk many people aren’t taking the precautions necessary to catch the condition early, especially older adults shows research published in JAMA Dermatology.

Roughly 30 percent of all melanoma spots are found on the heads or necks of older patients, compared to just 9 percent among younger adults, the research shows. That’s a problem, because head and neck spots have been tied to higher rates of mortality, the study authors say. Nodular melanoma—the most-aggressive form of the disease—is also more common among older adults, the study shows.

Seniors are more likely to have their melanoma found by a physician other than a dermatologist. Surprisingly, many don’t regularly visit a dermatologist, the study author say. General practitioners are less adept than dermatologists at identifying melanomas and often don’t recognize the condition until its more advanced stages, the researchers explain. All these factors contribute to the higher mortality rates among older melanoma sufferers.

So how to protect yourself? First, schedule an annual skin exam with a board-certified dermatologist. Unlike other practitioners, who have minimal training at identifying skin cancers; board-certified dermatologists have years of specialized training to spot melanomas or other skin cancers early.

You should also perform self-checks or ask a loved one to examine hard to see areas. During the exam be on the lookout for the ABCDE’s:

A is for Asymmetry
One half of the spot is unlike the other half.

B is for Border
The spot has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.

C is for Color
The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown or black, or areas of white, red, or blue.

D is for Diameter
While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser, when diagnosed, they can be smaller.

E is for Evolving
The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.


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