Although it may not feel like summer, warmer weather and hot sunny days are right around the corner. May 4 is also known as Melanoma Monday, and kicks off Skin Cancer Awareness Month, the perfect time for a reminder of the long-term effects of unprotected sun exposure and skin cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, one in four Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate — it can affect anyone no matter the age, skin color, or sunbathing habits. But, people with light complexions are at a higher risk. If you sunburn easily, have had at least one blistering sunburn, use tanning beds, or have a history of skin cancer, you are at higher risk for developing melanoma. Melanoma is the most aggressive and deadly type of skin cancer, but if caught early enough, it has a 95% cure rate.
Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma
Remember you ABCDEs to recognize melanoma:
Asymmetry – If you draw a line down the middle of a mole, both sides should look alike.
Border – If the edges of the mole look irregular or smudged.
Color – A mole that is various shades of brown and other colors.
Diameter – A large mole that suddenly appears or rapidly grows.
Evolution – A mole that changes in any way or becomes tender, itchy, or bleeds.
How to Check for Melanoma
Skin cancer can develop on any part of your body, even areas you don’t think see the sun. Annual skin cancer screenings with your primary care provider, dermatologist, or general surgeon are important. You should also do monthly self-exams to understand what your skin looks like so you can recognize signs and symptoms of skin cancer.
Consider these tips when completing your self-exam:
Examine the front and back of your body in a mirror.
Lift your arms and examine the sides of your body in a mirror.
Use a hand mirror to examine your neck and scalp.
Look carefully at your arms, back or upper arms, and your hands, including your palms.
Check your buttocks with a hand mirror.
Look at the backs of your legs.
Check your feet and between your toes.
Preventing Skin Cancer
Protecting yourself from the sun is the number one thing you can do to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Don’t be fooled, a base-tan or easing your skin into sun exposure does not help you avoid the risk. Once you have a tan, your skin is already damaged from the UV rays.
Follow these tips to help lower your risk of developing melanoma:
Limit your exposure to UV rays.
Avoid tanning beds.
Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
Reapply sunscreen every two hours.
Practice month self-examinations.
If you’re concerned about a possible case of melanoma or have more questions regarding care and treatment, talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist today.
Sabrina Mikita, MD, is a dermatologist with UPMC in the Susquehanna region. She sees patients at SH Dermatology at Grampian Blvd., 1205 Grampian Blvd., Suite 1A, Williamsport. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 570-326-8060.