I am concerned about skin cancer. What steps do I need to take for prevention and early detection?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

I am concerned about skin cancer. What steps do I need to take for prevention and early detection?
By Erika L. Swanson, MD, Radiation Oncologist, Columbia St. Mary’s Health System

As summer swings in with full force, it’s time to take a serious look at skin health. Every year, over one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer, making it the most common cancer in the United States. It’s an eye-opening statistic, but with early detection and proper treatment, skin cancer is highly curable.

Luckily, unlike many other forms of cancer, prevention is relatively simple: avoid ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. If you’re outside during peak mid-day hours, seek out shady areas. Wear sunglasses with UV-blocking lenses and a hat with a wide brim to conceal your head, face, ears and neck. It is summer, so you should treat any still-exposed skin with a sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of at least 30 and reapply often. Be sure to use one that protects against UVA and UVB radiation. Don’t forget your lips. They also need protection with a lip balm containing a SPF of 30 or higher. And, yes, the artificial UV radiation of sun lamps and tanning booths are also extremely harmful and should be avoided.

Even if you take every last precaution, though, you should still perform regular skin checks. Since skin cancer always presents visibly on the skin – whether as a dry or flaky patch, a red spot, or as a mole – being familiar with the condition of your skin is vitally important. Be sure to check even the hard to see spots for any changes in your skin with a mirror or some assistance from a friend. Most health insurance plans cover an annual skin check from a dermatologist, be sure to take advantage of this skin cancer screening. Like all cancers, early detection is key.

Melanoma, which is the most common and deadly form of skin cancer, presents as a mole and there are several early warning signs to be on the lookout for. First off, if you notice any pronounced changes in your moles – either in size or color – you should see your doctor immediately. Additionally, there is a very simple and handy guide to determine other telltale signs of melanoma. It’s as easy as ABCDE.

A is for Asymmetry – One half is different than the other half.

B is for Border Irregularity – The edges are notched, uneven or blurred.

C is for Color – The color is uneven. Shades of brown, tan and black are present.

D is for Diameter – Diameter is greater than 6 millimeters.

E is for evolution – Color or shape changes over time.

If you have a mole that meets any one of these criteria, you should have it checked out by a doctor immediately. Otherwise, with a few simple precautionary measures and some regular inspection, you’ll be well on your way to a safe and joyous summer.

Erika L. Swanson, MD, is a Radiation Oncologist on staff at Columbia St. Mary’s Health System. For more information, call: (414) 291-1556.



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