Almost 5 million people are treated for skin cancer every year in the United States. This disease is now the most common cancer diagnosis in our nation, but you can reduce your risk by forgoing the “healthy” radiance so many people work to achieve each summer. That glow is actually skin damage and paves the path to serious complications. Equally important, you should schedule regular skin cancer screenings with Prizant Dermatology in Pittsburgh, PA.
How Often Should You Get a Skin Cancer Screening?
The American Cancer Society recommends people between the ages of 20 and 40 get a professional skin exam every three years – especially if they live in sunny climates. This recommendation jumps to once annually for people over age 40. And those with certain risk factors or a family history of skin cancer may need to be screened more frequently than once a year.
While skin cancer comes in many variations, the three most prominent types are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. These cancers can be attributed to genetic predisposition and overexposure to the sun. Tanning booths and exposure to radiation or high altitudes also increase a person’s risk.
Know What to Look For
Skin cancers can grow anywhere on the body, but they tend to be especially common in areas that get the most sun, such as the arms, neck, head, and face. It’s therefore important to complement regular skin cancer screenings with self-exams conducted once monthly.
The entire body should be reviewed for skin changes (it’s easiest to use a handheld mirror for this), and any new variations should be immediately addressed with a member of our office. Signs to look for include:
- A wart-like growth
- A rough or scaly red patch that might bleed or crust
- A new, growing, or changing spot or bump
- A sore that bleeds but doesn’t heal after several weeks
- A mole that changes in shape, size, or color
- A mole with irregular borders, an odd shape, or areas of different colors
Follow the A, B, C, D, E Rules
When checking for skin abnormalities, especially atypical moles, you can also follow the A, B, C, D, E rules. These are easy to remember, and if any one of them applies to you, simply call our office to schedule an examination.
The letter A stands for asymmetrical and refers to any moles or lesions that are not completely round in shape. Skin cancer normally forms in odd shapes. B represents borders that appear blurred, notched, or ragged. When a mole develops in this manner, it could be cancerous. Likewise, C refers to color. If you notice a mole losing its pigment or becoming white, blue, pink, or red, it needs attention.
Letters D and E
D represents diameter and may be a little harder to identify than the other traits we’ve mentioned. As a rule of thumb, any mole bigger than a pencil eraser, especially if it possesses any of the characteristics already discussed, should be examined by our staff.
Last but not least, E stands for evolving. Moles generally do not change in size, symmetry, border, or color. If you have one that’s changed or is changing in a significant way, it’s time to schedule an appointment with our office.
What to Expect During a Skin Cancer Exam
Your skin cancer screening will consist of a thorough examination of your skin, from the bottoms of your feet to the top of your scalp. We use this time to identify suspicious spots that may be cancerous. We’ll even look under your nails, between your fingers and toes, and behind your ears. Prior to the appointment, it’s helpful to make note of any spots you’re concerned about and discuss them with our staff before your exam gets underway.
You’ll need to remove all of your clothing and wear a gown for the screening. You’ll likely need to remove all makeup and jewelry as well – your skin needs to be as accessible as possible. This means you must also be prepared to remove braces, bandages, or other skin coverings. Don’t be alarmed if during the exam we use tools like a bright light or handheld magnifier. These allow us to look at skin lesions in greater detail.
At the End of Your Exam
If nothing looks suspicious, your exam should be completed in about 15 minutes. If we find a spot that could be cancerous or pre-cancerous, we’ll likely take a picture to include in your medical chart and then perform a skin biopsy. A biopsy allows us to remove a small amount of tissue so it can be easily examined under a microscope. This simple process is completed with little preparation.
We’ll clean the area of skin where the spot is located, use a local anesthetic for numbing, and then take a sample of the spot with a blade or scalpel. You’ll feel no pain, and once the biopsy is complete, you can continue with your day. Our office will share the testing results once they’re available, which is usually in about a week. If the spot is determined to be cancerous, we’ll discuss treatment options with you and craft a comprehensive plan that meets your needs.
Early Detection Is Key
When caught early, many forms of skin cancer can be successfully treated. In fact, most can be surgically removed to provide the best possible outcome for your health. But, again, it’s important to regularly monitor your skin health and let us know if you see anything suspicious.
Skin Cancer Risk Factors
Despite common misconceptions, everyone is at risk for skin cancer. It does not matter your age or race, and even people with Black and Brown skin are at risk. Some of the factors you can control include limiting your sun exposure. Ultraviolet radiation is the number one cause of skin cancer, and UV rays are present even on cold or cloudy days.
Residing or spending time in areas with significant amounts of water, snow, sand, and concrete – all of which reflect the sun’s rays – further increases your risk of developing skin cancer. Tanning beds and sunlamps similarly contribute to skin cancer rates, the incidence of which continues to increase throughout the U.S. The risk of developing melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer, likewise doubles with every 10 years of an adult’s life.
As mentioned earlier, certain risk factors may require that you be screened for skin cancer more than once a year and include:
- Personal or family history of skin cancer
- Fair skin that easily sunburns or freckles
- Light-colored hair, such as blonde or red, and light eyes
- A large number of moles (more than 50)
- A history of sunburns
- A history of unusual or irregular moles
Sun Safety Practices
This discussion needs to start with a focus on sunscreen. It’s not enough to apply sunscreen only when the sun is shining brightly. UV rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes, and a blistering sunburn increases your risk for skin cancer.
To stay fully protected, you need to apply sunscreen to every part of your body at least 15 minutes before going outside – even if it’s cloudy. Choose a product that is water-resistant with an SPF of 30 or higher, and ensure it provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Don’t forget your hands and feet, and reapply sunscreen every two hours as well as after sweating, swimming, or toweling off. Also apply a lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher.
When you’re going to spend time outside, wear full-length pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a wide-brimmed hat whenever possible. If it’s too hot for such apparel, stay in the shade or sit under an umbrella. Also, cover your eyes with sunglasses that provide 100% UVA and UVB protection. Prescription eyewear should have UV protection as well.
Skip the Tanning Beds
No matter what tanning salon personnel might say, a safe tan does not exist. This is a myth perpetuated by the indoor tanning industry. Sunlamps, tanning booths, and tanning beds expose you to intense UV radiation, meaning they increase your risk of skin damage and skin cancer. It’s best to avoid them altogether.
Start Caring for Skin Today
Your skin is a workhorse that tirelessly protects you against external invaders, regulates body temperatures, and prevents moisture loss. Give this organ the attention it deserves by performing self-exams and scheduling regular skin cancer screenings. These are your two lines of defense in detecting and treating skin cancer in its earliest stages. Schedule your exam today by contacting Prizant Dermatology in Pittsburgh, PA.