Did you know the largest organ of the body, averaging over 2 square meters, is your skin? Most people really only think about their skin when it’s not tan, has a burn, or when they notice something that wasn’t always present. Tanning and long-term exposure to sunlight are two of the leading causes of skin cancer among Americans. It is important to equip yourself with the tools to prevent and protect your body from the three types of skin cancer: Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), and Melanoma. In recognition of May being skin cancer awareness month, here are some tips to help you perform your own skin checks and what to do if you notice something suspicious.
Regular self-examinations (monthly for at-risk patients and 3-4 times a year for everyone else) are recommended to stay familiar with your body‘s moles and marks and to notice any new or changing spots. The first step is to examine the front, back, and sides of your body in a full-length mirror and then use a handheld mirror to closely examine areas you can’t always see. These areas include the back of the neck, elbows, arms, lower back, buttocks, genitals, under the breasts, and scalp. The regions between the toes and fingers are also hidden areas that are important to check.
If you do notice a suspicious spot, you can use the ABCDEs as a rough guide to evaluate the urgency of getting screened. These letters stand for Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolution. If half of your spot is unlike the other or has an irregular border, it is a possible cause for concern. Additionally, if the color of the mole or mark varies, it is larger than a pencil eraser, or it looks different than it used to, give a board-certified dermatologist a call.
When diagnosed in early stages, skin cancers are easily treated. Ignoring the signs can be destructive and sometimes fatal. Regularly applying sunscreen and avoiding direct exposure to UV rays are excellent ways to prevent skin cancer and aging. Use a non-greasy sunscreen every day for the best protection and always look for a sunscreen, whether it is for daily use or extended outdoor activities, that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and always remember to re-apply!
Annual checkups with your provider are important, as a board-certified dermatologist can diagnose, biopsy, and treat all stages of skin cancer and assist you in being proactive about your skin’s health.