May is the harbinger of summer. The end of the school year and the rising temperatures let us know that months of outdoor play are on their way. But soaking up all that sun can cause damage to your skin. When it comes to UV radiation, it’s better to be safe than sorry. So, it’s a good thing that May is also designated Melanoma and Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. When you know the early signs of skin cancer, you can seek treatment when most skin cancers are curable.
Spots of color—moles, freckles and skin tags—are common and often harmless. However, some spots may indicate abnormal cell growth that may need to be watched or arrested. When on the watch for early signs of skin cancer, know your ABCDEs.
Asymmetry—a spot cannot be visually bisected into two identical halves
Border—a spot has uneven (raised, scalloped or notched) borders
Color—a spot is unevenly colored (colors may range from red, to different shades of brown and even blue)
Diameter—a spot is larger than ¼”
Evolving—a spot changes shape, size or color
If a spot on your skin shows any of these characteristics, you have a wound that is not healing properly or you have any spot that begins to itch or bleed, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist for further examination.
In order to identify suspicious spots, you need to actually examine your skin…and regularly to observe if any spots change size, shape or color. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends monthly full body self exams.
Because UV radiation doesn’t just affect skin in easily visible areas, you need to examine hard to see and reach places, too, and that can be challenging. The Skin Cancer Foundation provides step-by-step directions for performing a thorough exam. Once it becomes a habit, self-exams should only take about ten minutes.
There are three main types of skin cancer to be on the watch for:
Basal cell carcinoma—abnormal, uncontrolled cell growth that affects the deepest layer of the epidermis. Basal cell carcinomas often look like red patches or open sores, but these rarely spread. However, basal cell carcinomas should be treated early to prevent them from growing, which can lead to disfigurement or scarring.
Squamous cell carcinoma—abnormal, uncontrolled cell growth that affects the cells that compose the upper layers of the epidermis. Squamous cell carcinomas may present as scaly red patches, open sores or elevated growths with a central depression. Squamous cell carcinomas may cause disfigurement if allowed to grow and may be deadly if left untreated.
Melanoma—mutations in skin cells that lead to the development of malignant tumors. Melanoma often resembles moles and may even develop in existing moles. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and may metastasize to surrounding tissues, so early treatment is crucial.
If you find any spot that falls under the ABCDEs of early detection, don’t panic and don’t wait to diagnose the spot yourself. Schedule an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist for further examination. Some spots may be pre-cancerous, meaning they do not require treatment, only diligent sun protection and vigilant observation for changes.