This year an estimated one million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer, and 9,000 will die from the disease according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of all cancers in the United States, and sadly, is on the rise. Yet, skin cancer almost always can be cured when detected and treated early. As with all cancer, the best defense is awareness and early detection.
Who Is At Risk?
Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risk is greatest for people who have fair or freckled skin that burns easily, light eyes, and blond or red hair. Even darker skinned individuals are susceptible to skin cancer, although their risk is substantially lower. Other risk factors include family history or personal history of skin cancer. Those with outdoor jobs or those who live in sunny climates are at increased risk.
What Are The Signs and Symptoms?
The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change on the skin, typically a new growth, or a change in an existing growth or mole.
- Basal cell carcinoma might appear as a small, smooth, pearly or waxy bump on the face, ears, and neck; or as a flat, pink/red- or brown-colored lesion on the trunk or arms and legs.
- Squamous cell carcinoma can appear as a firm, red nodule, or as a rough, scaly flat lesion that might itch, bleed, and become crusty. Both basal cell and squamous cell cancers mainly occur on areas of the skin frequently exposed to the sun, but can occur anywhere.
- Melanoma usually appears as a pigmented patch or bump. It might resemble a normal mole, but usually has a more irregular appearance.
When checking your skin, use this easy ABCD method:
- Asymmetry—The shape of one half doesn’t match the other.
- Border—The edges are ragged or blurred.
- Color—Uneven shades of brown, black, tan, red, white, or blue might be present.
- Diameter—A change in size occurs (greater than ¼ inch).
Be alert to pre-cancerous skin lesions that can develop into non-melanoma skin cancer. They appear as small scaly, tan or red spots, and are most often found on surfaces of the skin chronically exposed to the sun, such as the face and backs of the hands.
You Can Perform Your Own Self-Exam
Once a month, take a few moments to look at your skin – all you need is a full length mirror, a hand mirror, and about 10 minutes.
* Look at any moles, blemishes or birthmarks from the top of your head to your toes.
* Note changes in color, size, or shape of these markings or any sore that does not heal.
* Examine your body front and back in the mirror; then examine both sides with your arms raised.
* With your elbows bent, check your forearms, upper arms, and palms carefully.
* Examine the back of your legs and feet (sit if it’s more comfortable); check the soles of your feet and the spaces between your toes.
* Don’t forget to check the back of your scalp and neck using both mirrors; part your hair or use a blow dryer to give you a closer look.
If you find any changes in size, color, or shape of any mole or other skin markings, or if you develop a sore that does not heal, don’t delay – see your physician.
How can I prevent skin cancer?
It’s impossible to completely avoid the sun, and who wants to? You should protect your skin from the sun all year long, but as we enter the summer season, now is the time to stock up on sunscreen and practice sensible sun exposure. Physicians and professional medical organizations such as the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following precautions:
- Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater 30 minutes before sun exposure and every few hours thereafter.
- Wear sunglasses with total UV protection.
- Wear protective clothing and hats.
- Avoid direct sun exposure as much as possible during peak UV radiation hours between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
- Perform skin self-exams regularly to become familiar with existing growths and to notice any changes or new growths.
- As a parent, be a good role model and foster skin cancer prevention habits in your children.
If you have any concerns, please call our office and make an appointment at 248/288-9500. Remember, early detection can make all the difference!