With May rapidly approaching, and warmer weather giving way to more time spent outdoors – protecting our skin becomes a top priority. Skin cancer, the abnormal growth of skin cells, affects people of all ages and races and most often develops on those areas most exposed to the sun. It is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in the U.S. with more than 3.5 million diagnoses annually – more than the new diagnoses of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. In 2014 it is estimated that there will be over 140,000 new cases of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. 1
There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma. BCC is the most common form of skin cancer and most often occurs on the most sun-exposed areas of your body (i.e. face and neck). It often appears as a pearly or waxy bump or a flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion. SCC also often occurs on sun-exposed areas of your body but presents as a firm, red nodule or a flat, scaly or crusty lesion. Melanoma, on the other hand, can develop anywhere on your body, even skin that is not often exposed to the sun. In men, it most commonly appears on the trunk, head or neck, while in women, on the lower legs. It often presents as a large brown spot with dark speckles; a mole that changes color, size or texture; a small lesion with irregular borders; or dark lesions on your palms, fingertips, soles or toes. It is from these signs that the “ABCDE’s of Melanoma,” were developed:
A: Asymmetry of the mole. If you were to draw a line across the mole, the two halves will be very different.
B: Borders of the mole are uneven.
C: Color varies throughout the mole. This can include different shades of brown, tan, black or even red, blue or another color.
D: Diameter of the mole is greater than 6 mm (or the size of a pencil eraser); melanomas tend to be larger than benign moles.
E: Evolution of the mole, in size, shape, color, texture, can be indicative of melanoma.
It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer, so the chance of you or someone you know developing skin cancer is more real than you may think.
As May is skin cancer awareness month, our goal is to educate the public and prevent as many new cases of skin cancer as possible. Here are some easy tips to help prevent skin cancer. First, wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and protective clothing (e.g. long sleeve shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, etc.) every day, even on cloudy days. Reapply your sunscreen every 2-3 hours, especially if you are swimming or sweating. Seek shade during the sun’s harshest hours: between 10 am and 4 pm. Second, avoid tanning, tanning beds and sun burns. Third, be watchful for any new or changing spots on your skin. If you do see any spots that are new, have changed, are itchy or are bleeding, see your dermatologist immediately. Not all changes are caused by skin cancer, but it’s always best to speak with your dermatologist. As with any cancer, early detection affords you the greatest likelihood of successful treatment.
- American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2014. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@research/documents/webcontent/acspc-042151.pdf. Accessed April 28, 2014.