By: Steven R. Hicks, Ed.D

May is Melanoma Month
Welcome back, Dr. Bishop. In March, we discussed skin care on the water, but this time, we would like to address another serious skin issue — melanoma. Fill us in on what we need to know.

Dr. Bishop: This is a long answer, so stick with me. Health First has a campaign for associates called “I Love What I Do.” I love what I do, because I can change the future if I find a melanoma on a patient. Instead of talking about something that could have killed someone, we can remove the malignancy before it becomes a life-threatening problem – changing the future for our patient, his or her children, grandchildren and so on. This is all because we caught skin cancer early.

“I got into dermatology because I like being able to immediately help people. ”

At the beginning of my career as a physician, I learned there are many things you can’t do much about — things you can’t alter, as well as self-destructive, genetic situations resulting from certain behaviors. But when you can find a cancer and eliminate it before it has a chance to metastasize, it changes everything. And so, that idea kind of morphed into this joke of always telling people, “Well, I’m like a superhero, because I change the future.” There’s nothing more gratifying. I’ve found melanomas on so many friends of mine, I’m beginning to think it’s a risk factor to be my friend. There are so many people, friends I’ve known for 20 years, who have ended up having melanomas I have discovered. But they find it early enough to go on and live happy lives. Every day, I get to see manifestations of that philosophy — if you catch a cancer early, you can save a life. I’m not afraid to stop people in McDonald’s or Burger King or at Wal- Mart or Publix (which I’ve done several times) and say, “I need you to know there is something on your skin you really need to get checked out.” I certainly don’t hand out business cards when I do that. I just let them know I’m a skin cancer specialist, so they realize I know what I’m talking about.

SCL: So, Dr. Bishop, help us help ourselves. What do we look for?

Dr.Bishop: I think most of us would be able to internalize the parameters in about 30 seconds. Look for these signs, known as the ABCDEs of Melanoma: Asymmetry, irregular Borders, more than one or uneven distribution of Color or a large (greater than 6mm) Diameter. Finally, pay attention to the Evolution of your moles — know what’s normal for your skin and check it regularly for changes. And if you want to become even more sophisticated about it, realize that melanomas tend to be smooth rather than rough. If we see a brown rough spot, that’s very unlikely to be a melanoma, whereas a brown smooth spot very well may be. Also, the darker the color, the more likely it is to be a melanoma. The distinguishing factor between benign and malignant is often just whether it is rough or smooth. So, remember your ABCDEs.

SCL: How do your patients react when you identify a melanoma?

Dr. Bishop: When we catch it early, we have great outcomes. Patients who have had melanomas become our spokespeople — they start inspecting other people. It’s kind of cool, because I have a little army out there now. They’ll see something and speak up. Not, “Oh, hi, how are you doing, Jim?” It’s more like, “You need to get that checked out.” That is really cool, because they’re saving lives. It can be a little bit of a transformative experience, encouraging others to make a little course correction in their lives and do things better.


SCL: So you’re more than a superhero because you’re making an army of superheroes.

Dr. Bishop: That’s one way of looking at it. I like the idea of helping people — that’s why I became a physician. I got into dermatology because I like being able to immediately help people. I think that it fits me well. It lends a purpose to my life, which makes me want to work as long as I can.