Q: What are some early signs of skin cancer, or what are some abnormal things everyone should be aware of if they notice them on their skin?
A: If you think you are too young to get skin cancer and are thinking of skipping this post, you are wrong.
One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. While there are many types of skin cancers, melanoma is the most deadly— responsible for 75 percent of deaths. Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death for young adults 25-30 years old. The incidence of melanoma has doubled in the last 25 years. Unless it is found early, it can be deadly. One American dies of melanoma every hour. If detected early, survival rate can be 99 percent. One in 58 Americans will develop melanoma.
Who’s at risk:
• Women with fair skin, light hair and light eyes
• Tanning bed use prior to age 30 increases the risk of melanoma 75 percent
• Women with a history of blistering sunburns
• Having a family history of melanoma doubles your risk if it was a first degree relative
• Women with more than 50 moles
• Women who have a history of atypical moles
• Having a previous melanoma increases the risk of having another one
What to look for:
A= Asymmetry of color or shape
B = Borders that are irregular and difficult to define
C = Color variation
D = Diameter > 6mm (pencil eraser)
E = Evolution (is it changing)
Basically, a mole should be symmetric in shape and color with well-defined, smooth borders. If you can draw a line through the center of the mole and match each side in color and shape, most likely it is benign. If the color and shape are changing, go see a dermatologist.
Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are less deadly, but they’re much more common than melanoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma: The most common skin cancer, which results from chronic sun exposure. It presents as a sore, red patch, shiny scar or “a pimple that won’t go away.” It rarely metastasizes (travels), but can become disfiguring if not treated.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma: The second most common skin cancer, which also results from chronic sun exposure. It presents as a scaly, red patch or a crusted bump or nodule.
Schedule a full skin exam once a year with a board-certified dermatologist. She will check for anything unusual and educate you on how to perform monthly self-skin exams at home. If you have anything on your body that looks like an “ugly duckling,” different from anything else, please have it checked. Early detection = early treatment = cure.
Just remember that a tan is temporary, but the damage lasts forever. When you are enjoying outside activities, wear sun-protective clothing and try to go outside early or late in the day. Eating a colorful diet of healthy protein, fats and veggies will help boost your immune system and reduce UV damage to the skin. And, don’t forget to protect your eyes. Melanoma can occur there, also.
Dr. Haley is a board-certified dermatologist with a degree in nutrition science from Cornell University. She has been an NPC Bikini competitor and a consultant to the U.S. Capitol. As the mother of two young boys, she promotes safe sun exposure awareness to local schools and recently donated special UV-protective sun hats to kids in her effort to educate and share her innate generosity of spirit. Dr. Haley practices at Linder Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center in Scottsdale, AZ where she enjoys an active lifestyle with her husband and children.