Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells. In most cases it develops on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun’s rays. “Skin cancer affects people of all colors and races, however those with light skin who sunburn easily have a greater risk,” said Mark S. Bettag, MD., Sheboygan Cancer & Blood Specialists.
Dr. Bettag recommends, that everyone practice monthly head-to-toe skin self-examinations. “When you check your skin on a regular basis you will notice new or changing lesions that might be cancerous or precancerous. And, like most cancers, when skin cancers are found and removed early, they are almost always curable,” said Dr. Bettag. Because melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, skin self-examinations are key to early detection, but to perform a successful self-exam, you need to know what you’re looking for; that is why physicians developed the ABCDEs to help people understand what to look for when conducting a skin self-examination.
Asymmetry: one half of the mole doesn’t match the other
Borders: there are border irregularities
Colors: the color is not uniform
Diameter: the diameter is greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser
Evolving: there are changes in the size, shape or color
“Using the ABCDEs you can take note of any new moles or growths, and any existing growths that begin to grow or change in any way. Lesions that change, itch, bleed, or don’t heal are also alarm signals,” said Dr. Bettag
It may be helpful to have a doctor do a full-body exam, especially if you are fair skinned and burn easily. This will assure you that any existing spots, freckles, or moles are normal and if anything is suspicious, it can be treated. Once you understand what is normal and become more acquainted with your skin, self-examination should take approximately 10 minutes, which is a small investment in what could be a life-saving procedure.
Even if you have carefully practiced sun safety all summer, it’s important to continue being vigilant about your skin in fall, winter, and spring. “Many people don’t realize that the sun, even on a cloudy or cold winter day can penetrate your exposed skin and cause damage. Practicing good skin care, using broad-spectrum sunscreen every day is the best way you can protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays,” said Dr. Bettag.
Since its inception in 1979, The Skin Cancer Foundation has recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection regimen. However, sunscreen alone is not enough. The following are additional skin cancer prevention steps you can take to minimize your risks.
Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
Don’t get sunburned.
Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.
Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.
For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.
Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
See a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.
“If you receive a diagnosis of melanoma, your doctor will discuss a treatment plan for you based on several factors, including the stage of your disease, the type, the location, your age, and general health,” said Dr. Bettag. There are many treatments available for people with melanoma. “Early stage melanoma can often be treated effectively with surgery alone, while more advanced melanomas may require surgery as well as additional treatments such as immunotherapy or targeted therapy.” There are also a variety of new treatments and new treatment combinations being investigated in clinical trials, which are research studies to evaluate new therapies and improve cancer care.
Every year, more than two million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer—either basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma. If left undiagnosed these early forms of skin cancer can grow and become serious. “The most important thing you can do is perform skin self-exams and talk to your doctor if you suspect anything has changed. And remember when skin cancer is detected early it is treatable and, in most cases, curable,” said Dr. Bettag.