May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and if we could share one message, it is this — skin cancer is more common than you think. Fortunately, skin cancer is treatable if detected early.
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the US. Each year, doctors diagnose over 3 million Americans with non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma), while another 87,000 will be diagnosed with melanoma. Over a lifetime, one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer, making it more common than lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer all combined.
Skin cancer occurs when healthy cells within the epidermis, or outer layer of skin, change and grow out of control. This uncontrolled growth eventually forms a tumor, which can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (harmless).
The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Melanoma is the most threatening form of skin cancer – claiming the life of one American every hour, according to estimates by The American Cancer Society. Melanoma can metastasize, spreading quickly to lymph nodes and other organs. The good news is that it is treatable if detected early.
Protecting Your Skin Against Cancer
We encourage all patients to lower their risk of developing skin cancer by following these tips:
- Stay out of the sun during peak times. The sun’s rays are most damaging between 10AM and 2PM, so try to avoid extended outdoor activity during these hours. If you have to be outside, use sun protection.
- Wear sunscreen. To ensure you have the sufficient protection, look for a sunscreen that meets the following criteria:
- SPF 30 or higher
- Broad spectrum, which protects against both UVA and UVB
- Physical sunscreen that includes the ingredient zinc oxide
The most important factor when choosing a sunscreen is to find the one you like to wear, so that you will use it daily
- Use protective clothing. If you participate in activities that require lengthy periods outdoors in direct sunlight, such as fishing or outdoor sports, invest in ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) clothing. Top it off with a wide-brimmed hat that will provide additional protection for your face.
Detecting Skin Cancer Early
Most skin cancers are treatable if detected early. Performing head-to-toe skin examinations at home is a beneficial way to monitor your skin for changes.
The American Academy of Dermatology has set forth a simple rule known as “ABCDE” to identify what to look out for. These are common characteristics of a melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer:
- Asymmetry – Melanomas may be asymmetrical. If you see a mole where half of it does not match the other half, have it evaluated.
- Border irregularity – Melanomas may appear ragged, blurred or uneven at their edges.
- Color – Moles that exhibit a uniform color are of less concern than those with a blotchy or speckled appearance.
- Diameter – Consider the size of your moles; a mole larger than the size of a pencil eraser should be examined by a dermatologist
- Evolving size, shape, or color – Pay attention to whether your mole has grown or changed. Moles that are changing in size, shape, or color deserve extra attention and should be evaluated by a dermatologist.
While the ABCDEs are characteristic of a melanoma, some melanomas may have none of these characteristics. Additionally, non-melanoma skin cancers may have different characteristics, looking like a scaly patch, pearly bump, or a nonhealing sore.
If there is a mole that exhibits any of the ABCDEs, a lesion that just won’t heal, or a spot that concerns you, schedule an appointment to have it evaluated by a dermatology provider.
At Vanguard Skin Specialists, we believe in early detection, early treatment, and early cure.