Today you have a one in five chance of developing skin cancer in your lifetime, and malignant melanoma, the most lethal type is the most rapidly increasing cancer in this country. The occurrence of melanoma is predicted to increase to one out of every 7 persons.
Dramatic increases are occurring in both sexes, as well as in younger and older age groups. Fortunately, early detection is the surest way to a cure and by examining yourself monthly you can find it when it is treatable.
The principal cause of skin cancer is universally accepted by medical experts to be over exposure to sunlight. You can think of exposing your body to sunshine like putting money in an interest bearing retirement account with the benefits being skin cancer. As your exposure to the sun accumulates, you add to the account at the Sun Bank and at some point in the future when you have saved enough sunshine with compounded interest, you develop skin cancer. Many people who are no longer are exposing themselves to the sun still develop skin cancer as a result of their earlier “deposits” in the sun bank
No one knows your body better than yourself and simply inspecting your own body can recognize most skin cancers. The trick to self-exams is to make sure you check your whole body thoroughly. When looking for skin cancer the main thing to notice is any change in your skin. This could be for example, a new red spot that does not go away, a new color in an old mole or even a bleeding pimple on the face or back. Also skin cancers can appear as new growths, moles, sores or change in color appearing suddenly.
It is easy to examine yourself; in a brightly lit room, in front of a full length mirror:
- Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then right and left sides with your arm raised.
- Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, upper under arms and palms.
- Look at the back of your legs and feet, including the spaces between your toes and soles.
- Examine the back of your neck and scalp using a hand mirror. Part your hair for a close look.
- Check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.
- Ask a partner to help you examine hard to see areas.
There are three basic types of skin cancer. They are Basal Cell Skin Cancer- the most common, Squamous Cell Skin Cancer- the second most common and Melanoma Skin Cancer- the one which has a tendency to spread inside the body if left untreated. The Basal cell type usually appears as a small pearly bump or nodule on the head, neck or on any body surface.
Squamous cell Cancer may also appear as a nodule, or a red scaly patch. It typically is found on the head or neck, but unlike the basal cell type it can spread. The Melanoma type is the third type with the greatest tendency to spread and can be a threat to life. It usually presents as a flat or raised “mole” that is often shades of brown or black in color. It may develop in a pre-existing mole that has changed or as a new growth. Melanomas usually exhibit one or more of the warning signs called the “ ABCDE’s”.
- A-Asymmetry (one side looks different than the other
- B-Border Irregularity (edges are jagged or scalloped)
- C-Color Variation (the mole has varying shades of black, tan with brown, sometimes red , white or blue;
- D-Diameter (larger than the width of a pencil eraser – 6mm)
- E-Evolving; a mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.
All of the skin cancer types are curable if found and treated early which is why examining yourself is so important. Any concerning growths should be examined by a Board Certified Dermatologist who can determine if a biopsy or sample needs to be taken.
- You can decrease your chances of developing skin cancer by doing the following:
- Stay out of the midday sun between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM , when ultraviolet rays are the strongest.
- Wear sunscreen. Choose a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. in a broad spectrum formula that absorbs both UVA and UVB rays; use two table spoons or one ounce to cover the body. Apply the sunscreen liberally at least fifteen minutes before going into the sun. Reapply every two hours.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps.
- Wear protective clothing;
Examine your skin monthly and visiting your dermatologist if skin changes are noticed. The earlier you start protecting yourself from the sun the better are your chances are of avoiding skin cancer.
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