Did you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in America- and that the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, kills an average of one person an hour? If you’re not already actively screening your skin for skin cancer on a regular basis, or trying to protect your skin from sun damage- now is the perfect time to start. Here are some tips for what to look for when checking your skin for signs of skin cancer- and what you should be doing every single day to prevent it.
This year, 3.5 million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer, and 160,000 of those cancers will be melanoma. Melanoma is thought to be caused by unprotected sun exposure, but despite better screening methods and greater awareness, numbers are increasing. Scientists believe this is due to increasing deterioration of the earth’s ozone layer, which is allowing higher levels of radiation from the sun’s dangerous UV rays to reach our skin. In fact, researchers now estimate that 1 in 50 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma in their lifetime. So, what should you be looking for when checking your skin for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer- and what can you do to help protect yourself from the sun’s dangerous rays?
Melanoma: The deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma isn’t just an older person’s problem. It’s not only the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women aged 25-30, but it is also becoming increasingly common in children. About 500 children a year are diagnosed with Melanoma- and that number is increasing at a rate of 2% a year! Melanoma can appear anywhere on the body- even the eyeballs (ocular melanoma), fingernails and scalp- and can affect anyone of any race, age or gender. When checking your skin for Melanoma, the best way to remember what to look for is to use the ABCDE Method.
Asymmetry: is your mole symmetrical? An asymmetrical mole does not always mean cancer, but it is one of the signs to look for, especially if the mole meets some of the other warning criteria.Border: In addition to not being symmetrical, cancerous moles do not have round, defined borders- instead they usually appear as a jagged- edged cluster.Color: Most benign moles are uniform in color, though there are some that do vary slightly. Melanomas are rarely uniform in color and can appear brown, black, and even red, white, or blue in spots.Diameter: Moles with melanoma are usually larger than healthy moles. They may start out small but grow over time. They are usually larger than the size of a pencil eraser.Evolving: Cancerous moles will evolve over time. In fact, all of the factors in the ABCD method can change, which is why it is important to check your moles frequently, and conduct full-body melanoma screenings on a monthly basis. If you have a mole that begins crusting over, bleeding or itching, contact your doctor immediately.
Basal Cell Carcinoma: Basal cell carcinomas (BCC) are the most common form of skin cancer. Thankfully, if caught early, they are usually not fatal. BCC’s are also thought to be caused by sun exposure. They appear on the skin as open sores, red patches, scars, shiny bumps, or pink growths. Thankfully BCC does not usually spread- but they can if left untreated. They can also cause permanent scarring when removed and can return to previously treated areas- so regular follow-up care is extremely important. BCC is caused by prolonged sun exposure AND by short-term, intense sun exposure that may result in a sunburn. People most at risk for BCC are those with fair skin, red or blonde hair, and light colored eyes. Though it has traditionally been more common in men, an increasing number of women are developing BCC.