Your Skin Cancer Awareness Month Guide to Prevention and Detection

Skin cancer is a major health concern worldwide.

  • More than 2 people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.
  • Spending just 15 minutes in the sun without proper UV protection can cause skin damage.
  • There are over 5 million reports of skin cancer each year in the United States.
  • Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetimes.

To put a spotlight on the most common cancer in the country, May is designated as Skin Cancer Awareness Month. The goal of the month-long campaign is to raise health awareness about regular skin screenings and the importance of preventive skin care practices.

Why skin cancer awareness month matters

Most skin cancers are treatable if caught early but can be fatal if left untreated, so early diagnosis is crucial. Another benefit of early discovery is the mitigation of deformities and adverse effects caused by surgeries and systemic therapies.

There are three main types of skin cancer. Most skin malignancies are nonmelanoma basal cell carcinomas or squamous cell carcinomas. These types of skin cancer occur in outer layers of the skin, and it is quite unusual for them to spread to other parts of the body (metastasize).

The third major type of skin cancer, and the most dangerous, is melanoma. It has a higher propensity to infect neighboring tissues and metastasize. Melanoma strikes fair-skinned people and males more often than dark-skinned people and women. Factors that increase the likelihood of developing melanoma include a family history of the disease, unusual moles, and prolonged exposure to sunlight and artificial sunlight from tanning beds and other sources. (source)

Early detection of skin cancer

Carefully looking at your body and visiting your doctor or dermatologist regularly are key to detecting skin cancer early. Let’s take a closer look at these methods for early cancer screening.

How to check moles

While the majority of melanomas originate in normal skin, around one-third of these cancers start in preexisting moles. Checking the shape and color of your moles is one of the easiest ways to detect skin cancer early. With healthy moles, the color and shape hardly change. However, if a mole has atypical changes (i.e., changes that are out of the ordinary or irregular), it is important to see a doctor.

You can use the ABCDE method — which stands for asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolution — to examine your moles for signs of abnormality.

  • A normal mole is symmetrical. Watch out for moles that have unusual shapes.
  • Normal moles have clearly defined, smooth borders. Abnormal ones have borders that appear rough, edged or poorly defined.
  • Moles should be of a single color — be it tan, brown, or black. Atypical moles included a variety of shades. Moles with areas of red, blue, or white can be signs of a developing melanoma.
  • If you have a mole that is larger than a pencil eraser, get it checked right away.
  • Normal moles usually stay the same size and shape. Abnormal ones often change their size or color really fast. If you notice a mole changing size or color, it’s best to visit the doctor.
  • Looking for signs

When checking yourself for signs of skin cancer, there are several parts of the body to focus on. The head, face, mouth, ears, neck region, chest area, hands, and, in women, legs are the most common sites of skin cancer due to prolonged exposure to the sun. However, it can also develop in inconspicuous places, like underneath your nails or the soles of your feet.

The symptoms and signs of skin cancer can vary depending on the type. Spots that are constantly exposed to the sun, such as the face and neck, are more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma include:

  • A raised, shiny, or waxy mass
  • An inflamed or reddening spot
  • A scar-like lesion that is flat and brown or flesh toned
  • A wound that bleeds or scabs, heals, and then bleeds again

Cancers that grow on sun-exposed skin, including squamous cell carcinoma, tend to manifest on the hands, ears, and face. Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in darker-skinned people, particularly in less frequently sun-exposed regions. Squamous cell carcinoma can manifest as:

  • A hard, red bump
  • A flat lesion with a crusty, scaly appearance

Melanoma can grow in any part of the body, changing healthy moles into malignant tumors. In males, melanoma tends to show up on the trunk or face. The lower legs are the most common sites for this cancer to manifest in females. The symptoms of melanoma are:

  • A large brownish patch with darker spots all over
  • A mole that bleeds, looks different, or changes size
  • A little growth with a splotchy-colored border featuring red, pink, white, blue, or blue-black spots
  • A lesion that burns or itches
  • Discreet growths on the skin of your hands, feet, or nose, or on the mucous membranes of your vagina, anus, or mouth

To diagnose skin cancer, a skin biopsy is always necessary. The biopsy involves extracting a little piece of skin tissue and analyzing it under a microscope. The medical team checks the sample for several skin problems, including infections and cancer. There is very little risk involved in the biopsy process, which is why they are available in outpatient settings.

The importance of regular skin examinations

The most deadly kind of skin cancer, melanoma, has seen a 32% spike in new occurrences over the last decade. To catch melanoma and other skin cancers early, it is essential to see your doctor often for skin screenings. The projected five-year survival rate for melanoma is above 99% when detected early.

During a skin exam, a dermatologist or primary care physician will look at your skin from head to toe, examining it thoroughly with their hands and eyes. If the doctor notices anything out of the ordinary, the exam may include a skin biopsy. Any abnormalities, such as a lack of uniformity in coloration or border shape or a diameter greater than 6 mm (about a quarter of an inch) will prompt the doctor to take a closer look.

The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests getting full-body skin exams every 12 months. Those who’ve had skin cancer in the past should schedule more frequent exams. As a good rule of thumb, any time you’re in doubt (about a spot or mole), have it checked out.

Practical skin health protection strategies

An important part of protecting yourself against skin cancer is knowing whether you’re at risk. The risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Light skin tone
  • Skin cancer or sunburns in the past
  • Overexposure to the sun
  • Warm, sunny, or mountainous regions
  • Moles
  • Precancerous skin lesions
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Reduced immunity
  • Exposure to radioactive contamination

In addition to understanding skin cancer risks, there are several things you can do to take care of your skin and reduce the risk of skin cancer.

  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible between 10am and 5pm
  • Use sunscreen year-round an reapply every 2 hours when outside
  • Wear UV-protective clothing and sun glasses
  • Do not use a tanning bed
  • Understand how sun-sensitizing medications work
  • Keep a close eye on your skin and notify your doctor if you see any changes

The importance of skin cancer awareness

Raising skin cancer awareness can save lives by informing the public about the risks of sun exposure and UV radiation without protection. It can also prompt people to look for symptoms of the disease and to use skin protection. In the United States, skin cancer ranks first in terms of frequency of diagnosis. It is also among the most avoidable types of cancer. If detected in time, it is usually curable.

You can use the month of May to improve your knowledge about sun safety and carry out your own awareness campaigns. The more we come together to raise awareness about cancer prevention, the better we can get at avoiding the health risks associated with the disease.

Here at the Florida Medical Clinic’s Department of Dermatology, we treat skin conditions and provide cosmetic dermatological procedures. In addition to examining a wide range of cutaneous problems, the dermatologists on our team have extensive expertise in dermatopathology and minimally invasive surgery. Our services include tests for skin cancer, the removal of warts, the treatment of malignant melanoma, and the surgical removal of moles. Call us today to schedule an appointment.

Meet Dr. Maria I. Hicks, MD, FAAD

Dr. Maria I. Hicks, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was raised in Medellin, Colombia. She has been living and working in the Tampa area since 2011.

Her fluency in both English and Spanish allows her to connect with a wide range of patients. She is driven to help her patients understand what they are going through and develop solutions to their skin issues and hair loss problems. Her biggest passions outside of the medical office are spending time with friends and family, dancing, traveling, and partaking in community events.


Dermatology • Uncategorized

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