How to Spot a Melanoma Skin Cancer

A mans back with moles to represent getting a skin cancer screening

Many of us have moles or freckles on our bodies that we see every day. In Tennessee it is common to have sun spots as well. Sometimes, we forget about their existence entirely—that is, until we notice a subtle change in their appearance, whether it’s the shape, color, or size. When this happens, it’s essential that you reach out to a skincare specialist to identify whether these differences are a sign of something more serious.

What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a severe form of skin cancer that starts in the skin cells, which are called melanocytes. These specific cells produce melanin, the pigment responsible for our skin’s color. And the longer these cells are exposed to sunlight, the more they produce melanin, giving you a darker complexion.

After a long, hot summer, many Tennesseans may be examining our skin for concerning spots. When your skin receives too much UV light, your body’s melanocytes may start to grow abnormally and become cancerous, which is an early sign of melanoma. Melanoma typically affects the upper body, head, and neck, but it can also develop in the lower legs or other areas of the body.

Is Melanoma the Same as Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Although melanoma and basal cell carcinoma (BCC) are types of skin cancer, BCC is much more common. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common cancer in the world. This is the case in Tennessee as well. Basal cell carcinoma typically occurs on parts of the body that are more susceptible to sunlight, such as the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, BCC typically doesn’t spread to other areas of the body but remains in a concentrated area.

Melanoma is a different story, however. If left untreated, melanoma can actually grow deep within the skin cells and spread to other parts of the body, including other internal organs.

FAQs About Melanoma
Because melanoma has the potential to spread to other areas of the body, early detection is essential to your long-term health and wellness. Below are some common questions to help you understand and recognize it symptoms.

What Symptoms Are Associated with Melanoma?
According to the Melanoma Education Foundation, the ABCDEs of Melanoma include:

(A) Asymmetry

(B) Border

(C) Color

(D) Diameter

(E) Elevation

Unlike benign moles, which typically have a symmetrical shape, even bordered, single color, smaller diameter, and consistent size, melanoma has the complete opposite effect. If you notice any changes in a mole or freckle, or if you discover the onset of a new mole changing shape or color, it’s best to contact Tennessee TeleDerm to have it checked by an experienced dermatology specialist.

How Fast Does Melanoma Spread?
Melanoma can happen at any time, with little to no warning (UCSF Health). There are four stages of melanoma, with stage IV being the most severe (Seattle Cancer Care Alliance). Though it’s hard to predict how fast the disease can spread, detecting symptoms in its early stages is the best defense against this type of skin cancer.

How Can I Avoid the Spread of Melanoma?
It’s recommended that you examine your moles and freckles every month to get familiar with their size, color, and shape, so it’s much easier to detect any subtle—or not so subtle—changes. Remember the earlier you can detect melanoma, the less chance it has to spread and become a threat to your health.

In addition to regular self-examination, be sure to reduce your sun exposure, wear plenty of sunscreen, and avoid tanning beds. If you’re going to be outdoors for extended periods of time, remember to cover your head with a hat and try to stay in shaded areas. Sun protection is especially important in Tennessee, where the sun’s rays are strong many months of the year.

Is Melanoma Hereditary?

According to the American Cancer Society, “Around 10% of all people with melanoma have a family history of the disease…The increased risk might be because of a shared family lifestyle of frequent sun exposure, a family tendency to have fair skin, certain gene changes (mutations) that run in a family, or a combination of factors.”

If anyone in your immediate family has already experienced symptoms of melanoma, it’s recommended that you meet with a skincare specialist to check your moles regularly and stay clear of tanning beds. The American Cancer Society also notes that if you are male, you may be at a higher risk of developing the disease, especially if you are over the age of 50, so be aware and get checked!

Is Melanoma Treatable?
Because melanoma is a serious and sometimes life-threatening cancer, it must be treated in its early stages to prevent it from affecting other areas. In fact, once melanoma has spread to other parts of the body beyond the skin, it may be difficult to treat. Therefore, it’s important to contact Tennessee TeleDerm so that an expert in dermatology can check for your skin early signs. At Tennessee Telederm we can perform a biopsy of any suspicious mole or growth to confirm the diagnosis. If it’s determined that you have melanoma, we may recommend excisional surgery to remove the entire growth, along with the surrounding border of normal skin to ensure all affected cells are removed.

Getting Your Skin Checked
Recognizing the early signs of melanoma on your own is important, but it’s also good practice to have a skincare specialist monitor your moles and freckles routinely, as well. It’s recommended that you schedule a full body skin cancer screening annually, or as recommended by your dermatologist. Fall is a great time to have your skin checked!

When it comes to your skin’s health, always play it safe! The next time you notice a suspicious mole, contact Tennessee TeleDerm to have it professionally examined. We’ll walk you through your options and help you find the best medical dermatology treatment to keep your skin healthy, strong, and clear of melanoma.

Treatment for Sun Damage

cream in a tube - G

Now that summer is over, you may have noticed changes in the tone and texture of your skin. Sun spots, wrinkles, melasma, and dry spots are all signs of sun damage.

Signs of sun damage can be treated with skin care products and in-office treatments. Fall and winter are ideal for treating sun damage, especially in Tennessee. Sun exposure should be avoided when treating sun damage.

Prevent sun damage

Repairing sun damage is futile without daily protection from the sun’s damaging rays.
At Tennessee Telederm, we recommend:

  • Application of moisturizer with SPF 30+ every day, regardless of season or weather. Apply to face, neck, & chest.
  • Sunglasses as often as able.
  • Wear a hat when outdoors for extended periods of time.

Morning application of an anti-oxidant serum has also been shown to minimize the effects of free radicals that assault the skin all day long.

In-office treatment

In-office treatments for sun damage are safe, effective, and offer the fastest results. Procedures for sun damage are customized to address the specific signs of sun damage like sun spots or fine lines.

  • Chemical Peels
  • Laser resurfacing

Chemical peels are suitable for all skin tones and most skin types. They range in depth, cost, and downtime so be sure to talk to your dermatology provider. They are easily performed over a lunch hour and are generally well-tolerated.

Laser therapy, like chemical peels, is available for all skin tones and skin types. Significant advancements in laser therapy over the past decade mean laser treatments are more targeted and widely available.

More than one in-office treatment may be recommended for sun damage.

Skin care for sun damage

In addition to in-office treatments, your dermatologist can recommend skin care for sun damage. Certain products can rejuvenate the skin, which may reduce the appearance of wrinkles, sun spots, hyperpigmentation, and dryness. Your dermatology provider can tell you which ingredients to look for over the counter or write a prescription.
Some individuals with sun damaged skin will benefit from retinoids. These products speed up cellular turnover, which can reduce the appearance of shallow wrinkles and sun spots. Certain acids, such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), can remove outer skin cells to improve skin texture and even out skin tone. Your dermatologist may also recommend a skin-lightening cream to fade sun spots.

Ingredients used in skin care for sun damage include;

  • Anti-oxidants like Green tea, Vitamin C, and Resveratrol
  • Retinol or Retinoid (Adapalene)
  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
  • Hydroquinone

Prescription strength products often combine these ingredients into a single cream.

Remember to always discuss your skin needs with a dermatology provider before starting a skin care regimen. They will tell you which products are safe to use together, as well as which can increase skin sensitivity.


If you’re interested in treatment for sun damage or skin care for sun damage, Tennessee TeleDerm is here to help. Book a convenient telehealth appointment online at tntelederm.com. We treat patients throughout Tennessee, including Nashville, Murfreesboro, Knoxville, and Clarksville.

Summer and Phytophotodermatitis

Phyto-photo what?  Yes, it is a mouthful!  Though this skin condition is not serious, it can put a damper on your summer plans.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • Phyto means plant 
  • Photo means light or sun
  • Dermatitis means skin irritation

Why it happens

Certain plants and fruits — especially citrus fruits like limes — contain psoralen, a substance that can make skin more sensitive to the sun. When psoralen on the skin and UV rays combine, a reaction occurs. This reaction leads to a rash.

Foods and plants that can cause a phytophotodermatitis rash include:

  • Citrus fruits, particularly limes and bergamot oranges
  • Celery
  • Fennel
  • Figs
  • Saint John’s Wort
  • Wild dill
  • Wild parsley
  • Wild parsnips

Lime juice is most frequently the trigger for phytophotodermatitis.  From summer drinks to latin food and marinades, lime juice is a summer staple!  

In Tennessee, phytophotodermatitis is seen in June, July, and August when UV rays are strongest. Summer is also travel season, when people head to tropical locations, which have stronger UV rays.

Who is most affected?

Lighter skin folks are more at risk for phytophotodermatitis, just as they are at higher risk for sunburn.  Prolonged sun exposure and contact with foods containing psoralen, increase the likelihood and severity of a phytophotodermatitis reaction.

What do we most often see in patients?

Patients who spend lots of time outdoors at the beach, lake, or by the barbecue and who enjoyed food and beverages with lime juice.  Chefs, bartenders, and others who work with food have an increased risk of this rash, especially when serving on patios, working at pool bars, etc.

 

Adults can get allergic rashes. Get treatment from the best dermatologist in TN

How to identify it

Phytophotodermatitis presents in a bizarre pattern on the skin.  It may look like smear marks, or a drip pattern down the hand or leg, or some other geometric shape. No two rash patches look the same.

Rash is most common on the hands, wrists, legs, and face. Often the rash is pink in the beginning, like a sunburn, and develops into a brick red color over a few days. Sometimes the rash contains blisters.  

What to do about it

A mild case of phytophotodermatitis may go unnoticed, while other reactions are severe enough that you seek help from a dermatologist. At Tennessee TeleDerm, we treat patients with phytophotodermatitis every summer.  

Here’s what to do if you suspect you have phytophotodermatitis:

  • Use cold, wet compresses when symptoms appear.
  • Keep affected skin out of the sun.
  • Don’t pop any blisters.
  • Keep the skin clean with daily bathing as normal.

Once blisters drain, the affected skin should be gently cleaned and covered with Vaseline and a bandage to prevent bacterial infections. Change dressing daily. Using antibiotic ointment where no infection exists, can delay healing.  

How to prevent it

Preventing phytophotodermatitis is fairly easy.  Washing skin (after cutting limes for example) to remove psoralen containing compounds, is most effective.  When by the pool or at the beach, rinse skin off regularly.  Wipe skin with a wet cloth if cooking or serving outdoors.  

About Tennessee Telederm
If you have a rash and suspect it could be phytophotodermatitis, book an appointment with Tennessee Telederm.  We treat most dermatology conditions including acne, eczema, rosacea, warts, hair loss, and rashes. Whether you live in Nashville, Murfreesboro, Jackson, Clarksville, or Knoxville, we can see you! Save time and gas with a convenient telehealth appointment and get the treatment you need to feel better!