If you don’t know by now: Wear Your Sunscreen! Suncreen with SPF 15 or higher can significantly reduce the possibility of melanomas, the malignant tumors that contribute to skin cancer. The good news is that melanomas, when recognized and treated early, are almost 100% curable. The big problem with malignant melanomas lies in their being ignored, undetected or untreated, causing the cancer to spread elsewhere in the body. In 2007, the United States population is estimated at encountering close to 60,000 new instances of melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society.
Self-examination is the best way to combat these melanomas. Your Dermatologist can provide professional care annually and instruct you on how to competently check your body for melanomas. These self-exams should be performed monthly, looking out for two kinds of moles, normal moles (round, brown blemishes or “beauty marks”) and dysplastic nevi (atypical moles). If there is a history of melanoma in your family, you are at a greater risk for skin cancer. There are three main types of skin cancer; basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Self-examination gives you a higher chance of catching unusual moles and potentially saving your life. If, upon examining, you find any moles that are raised, bleeding, oddly shaped or different than the last time you checked them, see your Dermatologist immediately. A good rule of thumb is to follow the skin cancer ABCDE rule.
A- asymmetry: look for abnormalities in symmetry – does it look the same on both sides?
B-border: blurry, uneven or rough edges in an early melanoma
C- color- multi colored moles or moles that have changed color. Moles can range from brown, black, tan, red, white, blue, pink, purple or gray.
D- diameter- Melanomas are typically larger than your average mole, about the size of a pencil eraser or larger than 1-4 ” in diameter.
E- Elevation/Evolving- any mole that has an uneven surface, is raised or changes in color, shape or size should be brought to your doctor’s attention. Additionally, bleeding, scabbing or itching are also warning signs of potential melanoma.
Men and women should pay close attention to areas of the body that are repeatedly exposed to the most sun including the chest, neck, tips of the ears, face, hands, back and lower legs, forearms and shoulders. Dangerous UVA and UVB rays from the sun and repeated exposure to these rays can effectuate skin cancer. If you live in a very sunny climate, like Australia, Arizona or Florida you are at a higher risk for skin cancer. If you have experienced major sunburns as a child, this can also be a contributing factor. It is very important to shield yourself from the sun with protective clothing, high SPF sunscreen (15, 30 or higher) and wear it on your face daily. Even in Winter! If you have pale skin, are susceptible to sunburns, have light-colored eyes, work outside in the sun often, use tanning booths, or have many existing moles you are at a higher risk of contracting skin cancer. People who have had chemotherapy or diseases such as HIV, lymphoma or other immune system destructive diseases are also at a higher risk for melanoma.