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Get Skin Smart—Monthly Self-Checks are Key for Early Skin Cancer Detection

Posted July 06, 2023 by Michael Tan, MD, FACP, FIDSA

Woman putting on sunscreen

Did you know skin cancer is the most common form of cancer? According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in this country than all other cancers combined!

Unlike most other cancers, skin cancers are most often visible to the patient and the examiner. If diagnosed early, skin cancer is easy to treat and almost always curable. But when allowed to progress, skin cancer can result in disfigurement and even death.

The key to prevent or get ahead of skin cancer is to be skin smart. As an early detection strategy, everyone should practice monthly head-to-toe self-examinations of their skin so they can find any changes that might indicate skin cancer.

In addition, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a yearly dermatologist visit for a professional, full-body skin cancer screening. You may need a screening more often if you’re at a higher risk for skin cancer.

Skin checks are the most critical part of cancer prevention. To check your whole body, use a mirror to see your back or ask a friend or relative to take a photo of hard-to-see places. Make sure you’re also examining areas that are often overlooked, such as your underarms, forearms, palms, soles of your feet, between your toes and your scalp.

Here’s what to look for:

  • A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or multicolored.
  • A mole, birthmark, beauty mark or any brown spot that:
    • changes color.
    • increases in size or thickness.
    • changes in texture.
    • is irregular in outline, such as an asymmetrical border or strangely shaped.
    • is bigger than the size of a pencil eraser.
    • appears after age 21.
  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, scab, bleed or change color.
  • An open sore that does not heal within three weeks.

Look especially for changes of any kind in color or texture. Do not ignore a suspicious spot simply because it does not hurt. Even if skin cancers are painless, they may be dangerous all the same. If you notice one or more of these warning signs, see your primary care provider or dermatologist right away.

Skin cancer prevention is best!

Excellent skin health starts with protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays. In fact, daily use of SPF 15 decreases your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent and lowers your melanoma risk by 50 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Your best protection is to apply sunscreen daily, even on cloudy days. Just make sure it’s broad spectrum with an SPF of 15 or higher. Apply it 30 minutes before heading outside and reapply every two hours, or immediately after getting out of the water or excessive sweating.

You also can protect yourself with a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, sun-protective clothing and limiting your sun exposure during the most intense times of day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Schedule an appointment with your dermatologist today to keep your skin in check.