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The Big See: How to Detect Skin Cancer
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so we’re sharing the Skin Cancer Foundation’s 2020 campaign called The Big See. Skin cancer can happen to anyone, no matter their skin tone or age, and on any part of the body. The good news? Skin cancer is very treatable when you and your dermatologist find it early.
Skin cancer stats
Did you know that skin cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the United States? In fact, there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than all other types of cancer combined. Tragically, more than two people die of skin cancer every hour, which is particularly devastating because it’s one of the most preventable types of cancer.
Here are some other skin cancer fast facts from the Skin Cancer Foundation:
- Your risk of developing melanoma doubles if you’ve had five or more sunburns in your life.
- The annual cost of treating skin cancer in the US is about $8.1 billion.
- Dermatologists diagnose more than one million cases of squamous cell carcinoma each year in the US alone.
- The number of new melanoma cases in the US is expected to rise by about 2% in 2020. However, the number of melanoma deaths in 2020 is expected to drop by 5.3%!
- More people develop skin cancer from indoor tanning than develop lung cancer from smoking.
Month skin cancer self-exams
Early detection is the key to skin cancer survival. In fact, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 99% when it’s diagnosed and treated early. One of the best things that you can do to increase your chances of surviving skin cancer is to check your skin every month. But, what’s the best way to perform a thorough check? Grab a couple of mirrors or a loved one and follow these eight simple steps:
1. Start with your face
The lips, nose, mouth, and ears (both front and back!) are common areas to develop skin cancer, so check them carefully. Take your time and move your mirrors around to get a really good look.
2. Check your scalp
This one can be tricky, so have a loved one help you if possible. If you don’t have that option, then one trick is to use a blow dryer, a large mirror, and a small hand mirror. Use the blow dryer to move your hair around so you can see all of the areas of your scalp in your mirrors.
3. Examine your hands
The hands are a very common area to develop basal and squamous cell carcinomas, but luckily, checking your hands is quick and easy. Make sure that you look at your palms and the backs of your hands. Don’t forget to also check your nail beds for discoloration or changes. Continue checking your wrists and both sides of your forearms.
4. Scan your arms
A mirror is especially helpful for checking your arms. Stand in front of it with your shirt off. Start at the elbows and scan the sides and fronts of your upper arms. Don’t forget to lift your arms to check underneath, plus your armpits too.
5. Inspect your torso
For this step, focus on examining your neck, chest, and stomach. Women should also lift their breasts and check the skin underneath.
6. Scan your upper back
Having a second mirror or loved one is essential for this area. Look at the back of your neck, the back and top of your shoulders, and your upper back. Also, check any area of your upper arms that was difficult to see in Step 4.
7. Inspect your lower back
Continue Step 6 by scanning your lower back, buttocks, and the upper back areas of both legs.
8. Check your legs
This portion may be easiest if you’re seated. You can lift your legs one at a time and set them on a stool or second chair, if necessary. Use a hand mirror to inspect your inner thigh and genitals on both sides. Then, examine the front and sides of both legs, from the upper thigh to the ankle.
Don’t forget to check the tops of your feet and your toenail beds as well. Finish up by checking the soles of your feet and your heels.
How do you know if there’s a problem?
During your monthly skin exam, look for anything that is:
- NEW – any new moles or spots, especially if they appear after age 21, could be cancer.
- CHANGING – a leopard doesn’t change its spots, and neither should you! If an existing mole or skin spot has changed, it could be cancer.
- UNUSUAL – if there’s a spot that’s different from others on your body, or if a spot has an unusual outline, itches, hurts, crusts, or bleeds for over three weeks, it could be cancer.
If you notice anything NEW, CHANGING, or UNUSUAL, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist right away. If not, then mark your calendar or reset your phone reminder for your next skin check in one month.
Tip for the ladies: do your skin self-exam on the same day that you do your breast self-exam so that you never miss either!
Skin cancer prevention strategies
Performing your monthly skin exam is a great place to start, but taking steps to stop cancer before it begins is even better!
Some ways to prevent skin cancer of all types are to:
- Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, even when you’ll be indoors because harmful UV rays can still pass through most windows.
- The American Academy of Dermatology recommends keeping infants under six months of age out of the sun completely, as their skin is too sensitive for sunscreen.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours when you’re outside, but more often if you’re swimming or sweating a lot. Refer to your bottle of sunscreen for more precise instructions since each brand differs.
- Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the backs of your hands, especially after washing them.
- Use a chapstick with SPF.
- Avoid tanning beds completely!
- Try not to spend time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the UV rays are the strongest.
- When you’re outdoors, seek shade when possible.
- Wear protective clothing, such as long sleeves and pants with a UV protection factor (UPF) of 50 or more, plus a wide-brimmed hat that covers your face, ears, and neck.
- Wear UV-blocking eyewear.
While following these prevention strategies cannot completely eliminate the risk for skin cancer, it can dramatically lower your chances of developing it.
If you notice something suspicious, schedule an appointment
If you notice something that gives you pause during a skin cancer self-exam, schedule an appointment right away. It’s better to know for sure than to stay awake at night wondering if it’s cancer or not. In addition to your monthly self-exam, you should see a dermatologist annually for a full exam. If you don’t already have your yearly appointment on the books, get in touch with us right away!