Skin cancer is unique in the dermatology world because while it starts on or in the skin, it can spread to any other organ in the body. Regular skin cancer checks are key for early intervention and prevention, but how do you know that you should get checked for skin cancer?
Sun damage is responsible for an overwhelming majority of skin cancers. When we say sun damage, what exactly do we mean? Sun damage can be natural (light from the sun itself) or artificial (tanning lamps/beds, etc.), but either way, it’s something that should be avoided. People who have had five or more blistering sunburns in their early years are far more likely to develop skin cancer earlier and more often than those who didn’t. People who work outside or spent much of their youths outside in the sun should begin regular skin cancer exams at a fairly young age. Odds are, if you’re reading this, yearly skin cancer screenings should be on your calendar regardless of your degree of sun damage.
If you used to tan, you’re far more likely to develop skin cancer than people who didn’t. If you’re still tanning, stop it now. Sun-kissed skin is damaged skin, and regularly tanning massively increases the likelihood of developing skin cancer. Spray tans are a safe alternative and are widely available. No beauty statement is worth sacrificing your health in the future.
Regardless of your history of sun damage, you should be performing self exams for skin cancer regularly at home. Many people who call for a skin cancer screening have discovered something of note on their skin during a check. People who perform self exams for skin cancer are far more likely to survive skin cancer, because early intervention is key. Detecting skin cancer, or even signs of pre-cancer, can mean the difference between surgical excision and a much simpler in-office procedure.
Know the ABCDEs of melanoma. Melanoma often looks like a mole, but if you pay close attention, you can determine if a mole is concerning or not. Look for asymmetry, where one half of the mole is different from the other, whether in shape, size or color. Pay attention to the borders of your lesion; are the edges irregular or lumpy in appearance? If the color of the spot varies, even if it’s just between multiple shades of brown, it may be melanoma. Melanoma may appear as a spot that’s tan, black, brown, red, blue, or even white—any variation in color makes it more likely. If the diameter of your mole exceeds 6 millimeters, about the width of a pencil eraser, it’s more likely to be cancerous. Finally, a spot can evolve. If you notice changes in the shape, size, or color of a lesion, call a doctor right away. While any mole or spot can be cancerous, noting any of the ABCDEs helps illustrate the need for immediate attention.
Make no mistake, much like other forms of cancer, skin cancer can kill. Thousands of people die each year of skin cancer in America. What makes skin cancer deaths so tragic is that in many cases, with early intervention, they could have been treated relatively simply. Men are more likely to die of melanoma than women, and that’s for two main reasons. The first is that men traditionally work more outdoors than women. As the cultural landscape shifts, so too does the statistic in regards to work environment. The second reason more men die of melanoma is the stigma of medical intervention. Men are far less likely to visit a dermatologist for any reason, and they’re also less likely to schedule or perform skin cancer exams on themselves. Don’t live in fear of the sun or skin cancer, but know that the possibilities are there, and take steps to protect yourself and your family from sun damage.
There are plenty of great reasons to get to the dermatologist and get your skin checked for skin cancer. Whatever your reason, use it as motivation to call the experienced physicians at Northeast Dermatology Associates and schedule a skin cancer screening today.
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