Understanding Skin Cancer
- May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month.
- Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body – even in areas that never or rarely see the sun, so it’s important to pay attention to any changes to your skin.
- No matter how vigilant you are about wearing sunscreen and decreasing your risk for skin cancer, its important to still prioritize routine checkups with your dermatologist and always be on the lookout for any skin changes in between visits.
- Melanoma is considered the most deadly type of skin cancer. Paying attention to moles or growths on your skin is an easy way to look out for melanoma since changes to a mole you’ve had for a while or developing a new growth you don’t remembering having on your skin could be signs of of this cancer, according to SurvivorNet’s experts.
Understanding Skin Cancer
The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that over 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year, making it the most common cancer in the United States.Read More
And we do mean anywhere. That can include places like on the bottoms of your feet, on your genitals and inside your mouth. In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dermatologist Dr. Snehal Amin, the co-founder and surgical director of MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery, says skin cancer doesn’t require sun exposure.
“A lot of skin cancers occur in places that are not sun exposed,” Dr. Amin said. “A lot of skin cancers are actually genetically triggered. About a third of skin cancers occur in non-sun-exposed areas.”
He also says it’s important to consider the body in its entirety when looking for signs of skin cancer.
“It’s important to check the whole body, scalp, torso, legs, underwear area, everywhere,” he said. “It’s important to stand in front of a mirror, and hold a hand-held mirror, so you can check all the different parts of your body.”
Avoiding Skin Cancer
Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue, previously spoke with SurvivorNet about how to best reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Here are her top five ways to try to avoid the disease:
- Avoid sun during peak hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the tops of our heads, the tops of our ears and the delicate area around the eye.
- Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and make sure to reapply every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming.
Have yearly skin checks (with a professional) because it’s difficult to evaluate areas all over the body.
- Avoid tanning beds. There are no “good” tanning beds, and they can significantly increase your risk of skin cancer.
And though the upcoming summer months may require extra skin protection, it’s important to remember that you are, in fact, at risk of developing skin cancer all year round.
“My patients ask me all the time, ‘Do I really need sunscreen every day, all year round?’ The answer is yes,” Dr. Engelman previously told SurvivorNet. “People think they only need sun protection when they’re in the bright, warm sunshine. But the reality is, we can get sun damage at any time throughout the year, even in the cold, wintry months. Think about when you go skiing. That’s a very high risk. Even though it’s cold, our skin should be protected.”
No matter how vigilant you are about decreasing your risk for skin cancer, its important to still prioritize routine checkups with your dermatologist and always be on the lookout for any skin changes in between visits.
Checking Your Skin for the Most Deadly Type of Skin Cancer: Melanoma
The three major types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma with melanoma posing a particularly serious risk.
“Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body,” explains Dr. Anna Pavlick, a medical oncologist with Weill Cornell Medicine who specializes in treating skin cancer.
The American Cancer Society says the risk of melanoma increases as people age with the average age of diagnosis being 65, but the disease is not uncommon among those younger than 30.
In fact, it’s one of the most common cancers in young adults (especially young women). That being said, it’s important for people of all ages to pay attention to their skin since keeping an eye on moles or growths on the skin is an easy way to check yourself for melanoma.
Changes to a mole you’ve had for a while or developing a new growth you don’t remembering having on your skin could be signs of this cancer, according to SurvivorNet’s experts. Dr. Cecilia Larocca of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute gives SurvivorNet an overview of things to look out for with moles using the ABCDE self-screening method:
- Asymmetrical moles: “If you drew a line straight down the center of the mole, would the sides match?”
- Borders that are “irregular, jagged, not smooth.” It can also stand for bleeding.
- Colors: “Multiple distinct colors in the mole.”
- Diameter: “Larger than 6mm, about the size of a pencil head eraser.”
- Evolution: “This may be the most important,” she says. “Anything that is changing over time such as gaining color, losing color, painful, itching, hurting, changing shape, etc.”
Spots on our skin are often harmless. Still, it’s still important to keep an eye on them and reach out to your doctor if you see any changes or find a growth anywhere on your skin that looks suspicious.
Also, always remember to stay up-to-date on skin check ups with a professional regardless of whether you notice any skin changes or not. Dr. Amin says the frequency of your skin cancer checks depends on your risk level.
“Most patients should be seeing their dermatologists once a year,” he said. “If you have a family history of skin cancer, or even a personal history of skin cancer, then you should see your dermatologist a little more often. Sometimes every six months, sometimes more frequently if you are getting a lot of skin lesions.”