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Dermatology Facts—Melanoma Detection

Because melanoma usually begins on the surface of the skin, it often can be detected at an early stage. Checking the skin regularly for any signs of the disease increases the chance of finding melanoma early. Examining the skin once a month is very important for people who have any of the risk factors, but doing skin self-exams is a good idea for everyone. Here is the way to do a skin self-exam:

  • After a shower or bath, stand in front of a full-length mirror in a well-lighted room. Use a hand-held mirror to look at hard-to-see areas.

  • Begin with the face and scalp and go downward, checking the head, neck, shoulders, back, chest, and so on. Be sure to check the front, back, and sides of the arms and legs. Also, check the groin, the palms, the fingernails, the soles of the feet, the toe-nails, and the area between the toes.

  • Be sure to check the hard-to-see areas of the body, such as the scalp and neck. A friend or relative may be able to help inspect these areas. A comb or a blow dryer can help move hair so you can see better.

  • Be aware of where your moles are and how they look. Look for any signs of change in a mole. Also, note any new moles. If your doctor has taken photos of your skin, you can compare these pictures with the way your skin looks on self-examination.

  • Check moles carefully during times of hormone changes, such as pregnancy and adolescence. As hormone levels vary, moles may change.

In addition to doing routine skin self-exams, people at risk should have their skin checked by a doctor. The doctor can do a skin exam during visits for regular checkups. People who think they have atypical nevi should point them out to the doctor. It is also important to tell the doctor about any new or changing moles.

Because most moles, including most atypical nevi, do not develop into melanoma, removing all of them is not necessary. Usually, only moles that look like melanoma, those that change, or those that are new and look abnormal need to be removed.


Moles are spots usually tan or brown, but may be pink, to skin colored or black. Doctors call moles nevi (one mole is a nevus). Moles occur when pigment forming cells in the skin called melanocytes grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. Melanocytes make the pigment that gives skin its natural color. When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes produce more pigment, causing the skin to darken, or tan.


About 1 out of every 10 people has at least one unusual (or atypical) mole that looks different from an ordinary mole. The medical term of these moles is dysplastic nevi. But, this term is falling out of favor. Many dermatologists just use the term atypical nevi.

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Redwood Family Dermatology
2725 Mendocino Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Phone: 707-545-4537
Fax: 707-545-6726

Monday through Friday 8:30 to 5:00pm by appointment.


Redwood Family Dermatology
555 South Dora Street
Ukiah, CA 95482
Phone: 707-462-3996
Fax: 462-3363

Monday through Thursday:
8:30 to 4:30pm.
Friday: 9:00 to 2:00pm.
Occasional Saturdays.