May is National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. These 31 days are dedicated to increasing public awareness of skin cancer: what it is and looks like, how it affects the body, and how to prevent it.
Over 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year in more than 2 million people. Melanoma in particular can be quite dangerous. Some wrongly believe it affects mostly older people or those who spend a lot of time in the sun. Wrong! If you have skin, you’re at risk for developing melanoma.
The good news is that most types of skin cancer are curable when detected early. That’s why it’s crucial to inspect your body for any changes in your skin’s appearance. For example, patients with melanoma who detect it in the early stages (before the tumor has penetrated the skin) have a survival rate of about 97%. Once the cancer has progressed into an advanced state, that number falls to 15%.
What can you do to make sure you stay cancer-free? Inspect your body head-to-toe each month for any changes in your skin. This includes the size, shape, and color of moles. Take note of and monitor any new moles or growths. Discuss these with your primary care physician or dermatologist at annual appointments. To give you an idea of what you’re looking for when inspecting for suspicious spots, reference the chart below. See a dermatologist immediately if you notice any of these changes, itching, or bleeding around these spots.
Everyday prevention measures include applying a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher; reapplying every 2 hours (more often if you’re sweating a lot or are in water); seeking shade during peak sun hours between 10 am and 4 pm; taking care not to burn when in the sun; and avoiding indoor tanning devices. If you usually head to the tanning bed each spring to “get some color” for shorts/tank top season, keep this in mind: studies have found a 75% increase in the risk of melanoma in those who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning. Is bronze skin for a few months really worth that risk?
The skin is the body’s largest organ. It is the barrier that keeps good things in and bad things out. It is the face we present to the world each day. Take care of your skin like you would your heart or brain. While many skin cancers are curable when caught early, they are all preventable by taking a little extra care.