As we prepare for warmer weather and fun in the sun, let us not lose sight of proper skin protection. Regardless of our age, sex, or race, we all need to be mindful of sun exposure and sun safety and understand how to prevent and detect skin cancer.
How often should you examine your skin?
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers in the U.S. with over 5 million cases diagnosed each year; the good news is skin cancer is one of the easiest cancers to cure if caught early. If ignored, skin cancers can cause disfigurement and even death.
Having a full-body skin exam performed by a physician is a good first step (dermatologists are skin specialists). The doctor will examine any freckles, moles or other spots to determine if any of them need further attention. Completing monthly self-checks is also good practice to identify changes or concerns in between.
What do I look for?
There are three types of skin cancer.
- Basal Cell
- Squamous Cell
Not all skin cancers look or behave the same so it is important to take note of “any change” and seek medical attention in a timely manner. Never ignore spots just because they “don’t hurt”.
Follow the ABCDE’s to identify possible skin cancers:
- A – Asymmetry: is the spot perfectly symmetrical or does it have an irregular or unusual shape? Irregular/unusually shaped spots should be examined by a physician.
- B – Borders: does the spot have a smooth, circumferential border or is the border jagged or scalloped? Spots with unusual borders should be examined by a physician.
- C – Color: is the spot all one color (typically brown in color) or does the spot have multiple colors (tan, brown, black, red, white, blue)? Spots that contain a combination of colors or are dark in color should be examined by a physician.
- D – Diameter: what size is the spot? Is it smaller or larger than a pencil eraser? Any change in the size of a spot should be examined by a physician.
- E – Evolving: benign spots tend to look the same over time but if you notice a spot starts to evolve or change either in size, shape, color, elevation or if the spot begins to bleed, itch or if it becomes crusty, the spot should be examined by a physician. Additionally, if a spot starts bleeding and does not heel up on its own, it should be examined by a physician.
Skin Check Resources:
- Click here to learn how to perform a step-by-step skin check/self-exam
- Download a body map to help you keep track of various spots and the details of each.
What can I do to prevent skin cancer?
The majority of skin cancers develop because of unprotected exposure to the sun.
Take the following steps to protect your skin:
- Do not allow your skin to burn.
- Apply sunblock (SPF 15 or higher) at least 30 minutes before outdoor activity.
- Use a waterproof sunscreen for extended outdoor activity
- Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Avoid the use of tanning beds/booths.
- Stay in the shade between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
- Use a wide-brimmed hat, wear UV blocking sunglasses and protective clothing.
Graphic courtesy of The Skin Cancer Foundation