Avera Medical Minute: Melanoma Indicators

When you're soaking up the sun, doctors are saying your skin should be soaking up sunscreen. A young mother in Pierre is taking that message to heart after she was diagnosed with Melanoma, a form of skin cancer.


It all started with a mole on her back. Hayley Miller said she didn't even see it, but her husband did, and he bugged her for a year before she made the doctors appointment, The news was shocking.

"I just thought, like any younger person, that wouldn't happen to me. I wouldn't have skin cancer," said Miller.

Avera dermatologist Dr. Katie Bonnichsen describes that first visit and her concern. "Her husband had noticed that it was growing with time and changing in color, said Bonnichsen.

This is what Dr. Bonnichsen was looking for. She calls it the ABCDE's of skin cancer:

A: asymmetry in the shape
B: a border that is irregular
C: the color is dark
D: the diameter is larger than 6mm, that's larger than the size of a pencil eraser
E: evolving, the concerning mole or spot is changing, or evolving.

Despite more awareness of skin care, the numbers continue to rise:

"We'd like to think that over time the rate of melanoma will decrease once people become more aware of sun protection and that sort of thing," said Bonnichsen. Currently, melanoma rates are still increasing."

Protecting yourself from skin cancer doesn't mean you have to stay inside.

"Yes I still go outside, actually I'm a track coach, so I am out quite a bit, and I have three young children, so we go camping a lot out on the river so we're outside a lot," said Miller.

Summers in South Dakota are short enough, just protect yourself.

"Staying in the shade if you can, otherwise wearing sun protective clothing, a nice wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and use of screen is very important, said Bonnichsen."

and when you're looking at a sea of sunscreen bottles on the shelves:

"Sunscreen should be SPF 30 or higher, and it should say broad spectrum on the label," said Bonnichsen.

Hayley is taking care of herself, and making sure her kids understand the importance of safety in the sun. "Just being really diligent about checking my other pre-existing moles. Apparently, I'm a moley person, so I have to do a good job about checking those moles and doing the same for my kids," said Miller.

Aside from exposure to UV light from unprotected exposure to the sun, the other leading cause of skin cancer can be tied to tanning beds.

Doctor Bonnichsen says it's important to reapply sunscreen every two hours, and even sooner if you're swimming or have been excessively sweating. For more information on staying safe in the sun, visit Avera.org.