Diligent protection from UV radiation is the best way to prevent skin cancer. Unfortunately, by the time many of us have begun faithfully applying sunscreen before heading outdoors, we’ve already had at least one severe sunburn or clocked too many hours of unprotected sun exposure to count. Our next best line of defense against skin cancer is early detection.
Everyone who’s ever been in the sun is at risk for developing melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer. However, the odds aren’t even. Some people are at higher risk because of geography, genes or history*.
Geography: People who live closer to the equator and at higher elevation are at higher risk for melanoma because the sun’s rays are more intense in these locations.
Genes: People with fair skin, blond or red hair, blue or green eyes are more likely to develop melanoma. Having over 50 moles on your body or a blood relative who’s had skin cancer also increases your risk.
History: Research is uncovering a link between indoor tanning and the development of melanoma (at early ages). Melanoma is also more likely if you have a history of other cancers—breast, thyroid, or other types of skin cancer (basal or squamous cell carcinoma).
*Information from the American Academy of Dermatology
The good news is that skin cancers are very treatable (and beatable) when detected early.
In order to detect skin cancer early, you must know the signs. Do a head-to-toe self-exam each month, using the Skin Cancer Foundation’s ABCDEs of detection:
Don’t be embarrassed to have a trusted friend examine hard to see posterior areas. Men, especially, should pay attention to their backs—it’s the most common area for melanoma to develop. For women, the back of the legs is the most common trouble spot.
Normal moles and freckles should be small (less than ¼” in diameter), symmetrical in shape and color and even with the surrounding skin’s surface. If you notice a suspicious mole or freckle on your body that has changed in size, shape, color or elevation or a lesion that doesn’t look like surrounding mole or freckle, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Knowing the risk factors and signs of skin cancer can save your life. Mark monthly self-exams on your calendar, and remind a friend to do so, too. Early detection is the key to preventing the progression of skin cancer and being a skin cancer survivor!