The alphabet helps us speak, write and communicate with others, but its letters also spell out the warning signs for skin cancer, specifically Melanoma.
In the "skin cancer alphabet" from the American Academy of Dermatology, the "A" stands for asymmetry, meaning one half of a mole does not match the other. The "B: stands for for border irregularity. The "C" is for color, which can vary from shades of tan up to a dark black. The "D" is for a diameter greater than 6 millimeters or the size of a pencil eraser. The "E" is for evolving, be it in shape, size, color or symptoms like bleeding, itching or tenderness.
Doctor David Pascoe is a dermatologist at Skin and Cancer Associates in Tallahassee. He recommends getting a thorough head to toe skin check by a professional at least once a year, but he says you should also check your skin at home and make note of any mole - or nevi - that just doesn't look "right".
"There are some people who have very atypical nevi, multiple colors, large jagged boarders, and it's the very small, new spot that's just a couple millimeters that's black and different from the rest that can be melanoma," said David Pascoe, M.D., F.A.A.D.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, some two million people each year will be told they have skin cancer and nearly 86-hundred of those diagnosed with melanoma will die from it.
The majority of all skin cancers, and mutations in melanoma, are caused by ultraviolet or U-V radiation, which you can get almost anywhere. That fact is why Shelly Griffin, the owner of Wolff Tan in Tallahassee, says education about U-V is so important.
"UV is UV. We have UVA which is your tanning ray and UVB which is your burning ray," said Griffin.
Michelle Laczko is a medical assistant at Skin and Cancer Associates in Tallahassee. She works with Dr. Pascoe on a regular basis and says she wishes she could change the way she used to bake in the sun.
"I regret it because when we were younger, we didn't use sunblock like we use it now."
Laczko went on to say that many people are surprised at the places you get sun without even thinking about it.
"You can get sun just walking to the mailbox or at the grocery store, driving it does come in your windshield," Laczko said.
So what can you do to protect yourself from skin cancer?
Dr. Pascoe says, just use common sense.
"I encourage my patients to go to the beach. I say wear a thick layer of sunscreen, reapply every couple of hours and wear some protective clothing."
Dr. Pascoe and Griffin do not agree on the safety of tanning, but they do agree on protecting your skin with sunblock when you're out in the natural sun.
"Just because it says waterproof, or sport or sweat-proof, it's not going to be a one time application. You must reapply," Griffin said.