Did you know that more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined? Ninety-nine percent of all skin cancers are curable if diagnosed and treated early. Routine skin examinations are without a doubt the key to early detection and treatment.
Skin examinations performed by a dermatology provider take less than 10 minutes. Patients are placed in a medical exam gown and checked from head to toe. Providers check hard-to-see spots such as the scalp, back, and between the toes and fingers. If any abnormal skin lesions are detected, typically, they are biopsied during the visit and sent for pathology. Yearly skin examinations are recommended unless otherwise specified by your provider.
Monthly at-home self-exams are also encouraged. These are very beneficial in the early detection of skin cancer. There are five main things to look for when checking your body for abnormal moles or skin lesions:
- Asymmetry –one half of the spot does not look like the other
- Borders—the border of a lesion is irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined
- Color—the lesion has multiple colors within itself – pink, brown, or black
- Diameter—the lesion is larger than the size of a pencil eraser (about 6mm)
- Evolving—lesions that are changing in size, shape, color, or elevation
The above ABCDEs are simple guidelines to follow when checking your own body. Other things to watch out for are lesions that are painful, bleeding, not healing, or staying irritated. If you have any doubt about a spot, see your dermatologist.
The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. The majority of these skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Another common cause of skin cancer is tanning bed exposure. More people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than develop lung cancer due to smoking. Over the past 20 years, the diagnosis and treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers have increased by 77 percent, primarily due to the increased use of tanning beds. The cost of direct medical care for skin cancer cases attributable to indoor tanning in the U.S. is a staggering $343.1 million annually. Additionally, tanning beds are typically UVA rays, which cause more premature aging, such as wrinkles, and increase your risk of developing melanoma by 70 percent.
Melanoma is by far the deadliest form of skin cancer. However, if caught early, it is treatable. Melanomas typically arise from an existing mole and can occur in places that do not see the sun. For women, melanoma is commonly found on the legs, and for men, it is typically the back. Having just five or more bad sunburns doubles your risk of developing melanoma.
Skin cancer is one of the few cancers that you can see with the naked eye. This is why at-home and annual skin examinations with a dermatologist are so important. Here are a few simple tips that you can do to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer:
- Use a daily broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, every hour if you are sweating
- Wear sun-protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses
- Seek shade whenever possible
- Avoid tanning beds
- Annual skin examinations with your dermatologist
- Monthly self-exams
Editor’s note: Rebecca Denniston is a physician assistant-certified with Dermatology Group of Arkansas. The opinions expressed are those of the author.