Melanoma rates on the rise: Tips to catch skin cancer in early stages

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- For the last 30 years, melanoma rates have been on the rise. It's the deadliest type of skin cancer, and it can be lurking in places on your body you may not think of until it's too late.

Nancy Harbison walks with a slight limp and has a large, deep scar on her heel.

"This is a skin graft and it's a very, very thin piece of skin that came off of my other thigh," Harbison said.

It's the shape of a heart, but ironically, it almost cost Harbison her life.

Doctor Sherry Ingraham broke the news that Harbison had Level 4 melanoma. The cancer started as a mole on her foot and already spread to her lymph nodes. If she didn't act fast, "I would have died," Harbison said.

The American Cancer Society expects more than 73,000 news cases of melanoma this year alone. Of those, about 9,000 will die.

But even more startling are the little places this cancer can hide.

"It can occur very often on sun exposed areas, but also on non-sun exposed areas. The feet, the hands, between the fingers, on the scalp," Ingraham said. "I've had patients where it's inside the ear canal itself, even in the nostril, even in the belly button."

So doctor Ingraham urges her patients to scan their skin regularly. For places they can't see, ask a doctor or anyone else.

"You know, I'm always impressed by the number of lesions hairdressers find," Ingraham said.

Examine every mole, new and old, and focus on their A, B, C, D, and E's.

"So A is asymmetry, B is border, C is color, D is diameter, and E is evolution," Ingraham said, "and I think E is the most important one. If anything is evolving or changing and you just know something is different, have it checked it."

Because as Harbison knows cancer can hide in unusual places, and catching it early can be the difference between surviving or not.

"It was just a dark brown mole," she said.

Ingraham says melanoma 'can' have a 100 percent cure rate if it's caught and treated early.

More on the "A-B-C-D-E" of skin cancer prevention:
A = ASYMMETRY - Look for moles that are not symmetrical or the same shape on each side. If you draw a line through it, the halves would not match.
B = BORDER - Look for moles with a jagged or uneven border.
C = COLOR - Look for a change in color, discoloration, or a variety of colors.
D = DIAMETER - Look for moles that are larger than the size of a pencil eraser, but know smaller ones could be cancerous as well.
E = EVOLUTION - Look for moles that have changed size, shape, or color in any way. It's best to have it checked out early.
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