Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting more than two million Americans each year. It can be easily detected by physicians and often cured, but if neglected, the disease can be deadly. "One way to avoid the deadly consequences of skin cancer is to have annual screenings by a dermatologist," says Sancy Leachman, MD, PhD, director of the Melanoma and Cutaneous Oncology Program at the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). "In addition, it's also important to do a thorough self-examination every month following the ABCDs of skin cancer."
Here are the ABCDs for detection of skin cancer:
- Asymmetry - Involves a mole or birthmark with one-half of the mole not like the other.
- Border - With skin cancer, a spot on your skin appears to have edges uneven, poorly refined, blurred or ragged.
- Color Changes - Melanoma may have uneven colors appearing in shades of black, brown, red, pink, white or blue.
- Diameter - A red flag is if the size of a mole is greater than the size of a pencil's eraser, but can also be smaller.
It is also important to pay close attention to moles, bumps or patches of skin that bleed or don't heal. Leachman recommends consulting with a dermatologist if you have any changes in appearances in moles or on the skin.
Other ways to avoid skin cancer is protecting your skin by:
- Minimizing exposure to the sun between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, when the radiation is the strongest
- Using a broad-spectrum sunblock that has a minimum SPF of 30 or higher, and protects against both UVA and UVB rays
- Wearing protective clothing that covers the body and shades the face
- Reapplying sunscreen every two hours
It is also very important to know the risk factors for skin cancer. By doing this, you are taking action and not neglecting the dangers. You're at greater risk if you have:
- Light or red hair
- Light-colored eyes
- Fair skin or freckles
- History of suburns
- Excessive sun exposure
- Living in sunny or high altitude climates
- Moles on skin
- Family history of skin cancer
- Increasing age
"It's never too early or late to start taking precaution," says Leachman. "Knowing the risk and being proactive about sun screening and prevention is the best way to catch skin cancer early, when it's easier to treat and sometimes even curable."