Skin Cancer: It’s What’s on the Outside That Counts

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point and more than 2 million will be diagnosed this year alone.

These are startling numbers. But we can change them by understanding the risk factors and following guidelines for early detection.

Risk Factors

Anyone can get skin cancer — regardless of his or her skin color. Certain characteristics place you at a higher risk for developing this disease:

  • Light-colored skin that burns easily
  • Skin with freckles and/or moles
  • Blond or red hair and blue or green eyes
  • Use of tanning beds (current or previous)
  • History of sunburns, especially those that blistered
  • Weakened immune system
  • Family history of skin cancer

Skin Exams

Make it a habit to see your dermatologist once a year for a professional skin exam. Once a month, conduct a self-exam from head to toe.

How to perform a self-exam:

  1. Use a full-length mirror to examine the front and back of your body. Raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.
  2. Bend elbows and look carefully at forearms, upper underarms and palms.
  3. Sit down and examine the backs of your feet, space between your toes and the soles of your feet.
  4. Use a hand mirror to examine the back of your neck and scalp. You can use a blow dryer to part your hair for a closer look.
  5. Finally, use the hand mirror to check your back and buttocks.

The ABCDEs of Detection

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour. When detected early, melanoma is highly curable. That’s why it’s so important to perform monthly self-exams. If you notice a spot on your skin, remember the “ABCDEs” of melanoma detection:

  • Asymmetry: One half does not look like the other half.
  • Border: Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
  • Color: Single spot contains various shades of tan, brown and black — sometimes even white, red or blue.
  • Diameter: Melanomas are typically greater than 6 millimeters when diagnosed (the size of a pencil eraser), but can be smaller.
  • Evolving: A mole or skin growth that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.

Protect Your Skin

Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma. Don’t take chances. Protect yourself and your family by following simple guidelines.

  • Seek shade — especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is the strongest.
  • Protect your skin around water and sand. The reflection intensifies the damaging rays of the sun.
  • Wear sunscreen every day. If you’re going to be in the sun, your sunscreen should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more.
  • Never use a tanning bed. No tan is worth the risk of developing skin cancer.