The ABC’s of Skin Cancer

I decided to write about skin cancer this week for two reasons.  One, because we are only a few weeks away from the summer months and two, because I want to clear up a misconception that I am sure you have about this skin disease.

I bet most of you believe that we should only use sunscreen when we are swimming or sunbathing.  Actually, that is not correct.  We should wear sunscreen all year-round, even in the winter months.  Melanoma is most often caused by UV from sunshine in all climate conditions, not just in the summer months.

You should apply a good amount of sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 to all parts of exposed skin including the lips and tips of you ears thirty minutes before going outside.  If you are exercising or swimming, it’s especially important to re-apply frequently.

Do you check your body for new or changed moles?  And do you know what skin cancer looks like?  If you have moles, as most people by the age of 40 have between 10 to 40 moles, here are a few guidelines to help you determine what’s normal and what’s suspicious.

Normal moles are generally a uniform color, such as tan, brown or black, with a distinct border separating the mole from your surrounding skin. They’re oval or round and usually the size of a pencil eraser.

Do you know the A-B-C-D-E guide to the characteristics of melanoma? The A-B-C-D-E guide developed by the American Academy of Dermatology:

A is for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles with irregular shapes, such as two very different-looking halves.

B is for irregular border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or scalloped borders — characteristics of melanomas.

C is for changes in color. Look for growths that have many colors or an uneven distribution of color.

D is for diameter. Look for new growth in a mole larger than about 1/4 inch (6 millimeters).

E is for evolving. Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows in size or that changes color or shape. Moles may also evolve to develop new signs and symptoms, such as new itchiness or bleeding.

Here are some tips that can help prevent skin cancer:

Avoid midday sun. The sun is strongest for most places between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Wear protective clothing. Sunscreens don’t provide complete protection from UV rays, so wear tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs.  And don’t forget a hat and sunglasses.

Avoid tanning beds.

Become familiar with your skin, so you’ll notice changes. Examine your skin so that you become familiar with what your skin normally looks like. This way, you may be more likely to notice any skin changes.

The best news about melanoma is that many cases of skin cancer can be prevented by following the precautions above.

Be sure to visit your dermatologist annually for a complete body check.  However, if you notice anything new or if a mole has changed in any way, please make an appointment immediately.

Lather up and Happy Summer!