The Importance of Spot Checking

Lisa Sykes

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent most of my teen years at the beach. Hey, it was the 1980s, so like everyone else, I squeezed and slathered my way through innumerable bottles of baby oil. Unfortunately, this bad behavior has generated copious clusters of freckles and moles on my chest and back. I’ve monitored them over the years, and never saw any changes. . .until recently.  Naturally, the mole that concerned me the most was the one I could only see by folding myself into a contortionist-like pose in front of the mirror. The suspect mole had turned pink around the edges, so I immediately made an appointment with a dermatologist.

As I waited in the exam room, I focused on a laminated poster displaying large, colorful photos of dysplastic nevi, benign atypical moles that may resemble melanoma. (Apparently, the higher number of these, the higher the risk of melanoma.) It certainly heightened my awareness. When the doctor arrived, I explained my concerns to her and showed her the moles that concerned me. She looked me over and said that all of them were “birthday spots” except for the questionable one in the center of my back. She took a biopsy and scheduled me for a follow-up in two weeks.

On my way back to the work, I thought about the incredible opportunity that estheticians and massage therapists have to help their clients by keeping an eye out for suspicious looking moles or lesions. Practitioners can find them in areas where clients normally don’t look, such as the scalp or the back. And, by recognizing them and urging your clients to seek treatment, you may help prevent the advancement of a deadly disease.

The “ABCDE” mnemonic is a great reminder for spotting potential melanoma:


Borders that are irregular in shape

Colors that vary (brown and tan, pink)

Diameters that are fairly large (generally larger than 6mm)

Elevation or bumps

Non-melanoma skin cancers (e.g., basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma) usually appear as chronic reoccurring lesions that look like blisters, scabs, or ulcers. The basic rule is this: If you spot an abnormal mole lesion, then it should be examined by a dermatologist.

Don’t be shy. If you spot an irregular looking mole or lesion, gently ask your client if he or she knows about it. The goal isn’t to send your client into sudden panic but to suggest that the client consult a dermatologist. It may save your client’s life.  Fortunately, if detected early, skin cancer is 100% survivable. That’s a great statistic, and as a wellness center, the spa may be the best place to detect these abnormalities.

Incidentally, I did return to the dermatologist, and the biopsy came back negative.  I am relieved, but because of my youthful folly, I must return every year for a check-up.

6 Responses to “The Importance of Spot Checking”

  1. Felicia Brown Says:

    Visit Felicia Brown

    Great article. I suggest that people also check out this website: and The World Skin Project on Facebook. I was lucky enough to interview one of their core volunteers for the World Massage Conference this year and was impressed by their goals to involve massage therapists and other related professionals in detecting skin cancer.

  2. Lisa Sykes Says:

    Visit Lisa Sykes

    Thanks so much, Felicia. Massage therapists have a unique opportunity to save a client’s life–just by learning to recognize some warning signs of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. Great link! Thanks for posting it.

  3. Christi Cano Says:

    Visit Christi Cano

    Great article Lisa – thank you for sharing!

  4. Lisa Sykes Says:

    Visit Lisa Sykes

    Thanks so much, Christi.

  5. Marti Morenings Says:

    Visit Marti Morenings

    This is such a great commentary Lisa. I was having lunch just last week with a friend who relayed a similar story – she also found a suspicious mole in the middle of her back and had no way to really monitor it’s progress since she lives alone. What a great feeling for any consumer to know that his or her therapist cares enough to keep a watchful eye!

  6. Lisa Sykes Says:

    Visit Lisa Sykes

    Thank you so much, Marti. Early detection is key!

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