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Skin Cancer - How to Prevent It and Detecting it Early

Warmer weather and sunshine often bring people outside for fresh air and activities. When spending more time in the sun, it is important to remember to protect our body’s largest organ, our skin.

“Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops from the pigment cells in our skin called melanocytes,” states Dr. Leslie Christenson, Dermatologist at McFarland Clinic. “It is expected that approximately 207,390 new cases of melanoma will occur in the U.S. in 2021, about 106,110 of which will be invasive.”

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

How do you prevent skin cancer?

The majority of skin cancers, including melanomas, are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or from artificial tanning beds. Intense intermittent sun exposure that results in sunburns is especially harmful.

“With this understanding of the cause, the best way to protect yourself against skin cancer is to protect yourself from ultraviolet light,” says Dr. Christsenson. “This can be done with a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, wearing a hat, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding the noonday sun.”

Dr. Christenson adds that ultraviolet light from tanning beds should be avoided.

“Many think that a tan is nature's way of protecting us from the sun, but it too is a sign of sun damage, and therefore also increases one's risk of skin cancer,” says Dr. Christenson.

How do you do a self exam for skin cancer?

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) urges everyone to examine their skin regularly. This means looking over your entire body, including your back, scalp, palms, soles, and between your toes.

If new or suspicious spots appear on your skin, it is time to see a dermatologist for a skin evaluation. Provided by the AAD, the first 5 letters of the alphabet - ABCDE - provide a helpful guide to help detect signs of melanoma.

  • A is for Asymmetry.  If you draw a line through the middle of the lesion, and the two halves don’t match, it is asymmetrical, and this is a concern.
  • B is for Border.  If the peripheral border is uneven, jagged, notched, or just ill-defined, this is a concern.
  • C is for Color. Multiple colors in the same mole or skin spot is a warning sign. The colors can be various shades of brown, black, blue, red, or white.
  • D is for Diameter or Dark.  If a lesion is larger than 6mm, which is the size of a pencil eraser, this can be a concern. Some experts say it is also important to look for any lesion, no matter what size, that is darker than others. 
  • E is for Evolving. Any change in size, shape, or color of a spot on your skin, or any new symptom in it, such as bleeding, itching, or crusting, may be a warning sign of melanoma.

“It is important to bring about awareness of a disease that can be prevented by limiting known risk exposures, and that if caught early is very manageable, but if not caught early is deadly,” states Dr. Christenson. “Early detection and treatment are critical to providing good outcomes for melanoma. Therefore, it is our hope that Skin Cancer Awareness Month will provide people with the awareness of the importance to practice proper sun protection and the ability to identify early signs of melanoma, so we can all work to lessen the burden of this deadly cancer.”

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