May Is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime.  Fortunately, skin cancer is highly curable when caught and treated before it spreads. Early detection is essential. Since 1985 the American Academy of Dermatology has partnered with dermatologists across the United States to provide free skin cancer screenings as a public service.  A skin cancer screening is a visual examination of your skin for suspicious lesions.  Jones Dermatology has offered year-round screenings since 1985.

There are 2 main types of skin cancers – melanomas and non-melanomas.  Non-melanomas (includes basal cell and squamous cell cancers) are the most common cancers of the skin.  They are called non-melanomas because they develop from skin cells other than melanocytes (the cells that make the tan or brown pigment known as melanin that gives skin its color).  Most non-melanomas develop on sun-exposed areas, like the face, ear, neck, lips, and the back of the hands.  Depending on the type, they can be fast or slow growing, but they rarely spread to other parts of the body.

Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes.  Melanoma is much less common than basal cell and squamous cell cancers, but it is far more serious.  Melanoma, like basal cell and squamous cell cancers, is almost always curable in its early stages.  But, it is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body, and it causes the majority of skin cancer deaths.  Unlike, many other common cancers, melanoma has a wide age distribution.  In fact, it is one of the most common cancers in young adults.

Risk factors for non-melanomas and melanoma include:

  • unprotected and/or excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation
  • fair complexion
  • family history
  • multiple or atypical moles
  • severe sunburns as a child

Skin cancer can be found early, and both doctors and patients play important roles in finding skin cancer.  Consult your dermatologist if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • any change in the size or color of a mole or other darkly pigmented growth or spot, or a new growth
  • a sore that does not heal
  • scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or change in the appearance of a bump or nodule
  • the spread of pigmentation beyond its border such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark
  • a change in sensation, itchiness, tenderness or pain

The “ABCD rule” is an easy guide to the usual signs of melanoma:

  • A is for ASYMMETRY: One half of a mole or birthmark is unlike the other half
  • B is for BORDER: The edges are irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined
  • C is for COLOR: The color is varied from one area to another; may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of red, white, or blue.
  • D is for DIAMETER: While melanomas are usually greater larger than 6 millimeters across (about 1/4 inch-the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
  • E is for EVOLVING: a mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.

Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Following these practical steps can help protect you from the effects of the sun.

  • Limit direct sun exposure during midday. Ultraviolet rays are most intense between the hours of 10AM and 4 PM.  Also, UV rays can pass through water, so do not assume you are safe if you are in the water and feeling cool.  In addition, beware of sand and snow; both reflect sunlight, increasing the amount of UV radiation you receive.
  • Cover up. Wear clothing to protect as much skin as possible.  Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, dark colors and tightly woven fabrics are best.  Several companies now make sun-protective clothing.
  • Wear a hat. A hat with at least a 2 or 3 inch brim all around is ideal, since it protects areas often exposed to the sun, such as the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose and scalp.
  • Use a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of 30 or higher; use it regularly and properly. Follow the manufacturer’s directions.  Most recommend applying sunscreen generously to dry skin 20 to 30 minutes before going outside so the chemicals have time to absorb into your skin.  If you are wearing insect repellant or make-up, sunscreen should be applied before those products.  Most sunscreens must be reapplied at least every 2 hours and even more if you are swimming or sweating.  Use sunscreen lip balm, too.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month.  Make an effort to regularly inspect your body for any skin changes.  If any growth, mole, sore or skin discoloration appears suddenly or begins to change, see your dermatologist.  Early detection is the surest way to a cure.



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