Skin Cancer Awareness

Craig Kraffert, MD

Did you know that more than 3.5 million new skin cancer cases are likely to be diagnosed in the U.S. this year? That’s why it’s important for you to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays and know how to detect skin cancers early so they may be treated.

Many people think a tan is “healthy,” when in fact, a suntan is really an indication of recent sun damage. To protect itself from future damage, the skin produces a pigment that acts as a shield against the sun’s harmful UV rays.

What does UV mean?

UV stands for Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It comes from the sun, tanning beds, and sun lamps. The two types of Ultraviolet radiation are UVA, or ultraviolet-A rays, and UVB, or ultraviolet-B. Both cause suntan, sunburn and sun damage. UVB is more hazardous than UVA, however, there is no “safe” UV light.

How can I protect myself from UV rays?

There are many ways you can protect yourself from the sun. One of the most important is to wear sunscreen. Sunscreen will not only prevent bad sunburn but will help prevent skin damage and reduce the risk of skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you avoid deliberate sunbathing. If you must be in the sun, use a water resistant broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Broad-spectrum sunscreens are recommended because they block out both UVA and UVB rays. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen on cloudy days.

There are many other things you can do to protect your skin from the sun, like wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Long sleeved shirts and long pants will protect your arms and legs. Also, avoid the sun between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. This will help minimize sun damage, as this is the time of day when the sun’s rays are typically strongest.

What happens if I do get sunburned?

When the skin is exposed to sunlight too long redness may develop and increase for up to 24 hours. Severe sunburn can cause skin tenderness, pain, swelling and blistering. Serious sunburn will cause fever, chills, upset stomach and confusion. If this occurs seek immediate medical attention. Although there is no cure for minor sunburn, wet compresses, tub baths and soothing lotions may provide some relief.

Examining your skin frequently can lead to early skin cancer diagnosis. If detected early, most skin cancers can be cured. It’s a good idea to perform a skin self-exam once every three months. Self-exams are easy and take very little time. The following are some helpful tips for checking your skin.

1. Examine your body, front and back, in the mirror and then inspect your right and left sides with your arms raised.

2. Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, upper underarms and palms.

3. Look at the backs of your legs and feet, including between your toes and your soles.

4. Examine the back of your neck and scalp using a hand mirror. Part your hair for a closer look.

5. Check your buttocks with a hand mirror.

6. Ask a partner to help you examine hard-to-see places.

What should I look for when doing a skin self-exam?

Look for the ABCDEs of skin cancer:

A. For Asymmetry, when one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half.

B. For Border, when the border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred or irregular.

C. For Color, when the color of the mole is not the same throughout or if it has shades of tan, brown, black, red, white or blue.

D. For Diameter, when the diameter of a mole is larger than 6 mm, the width of a pencil eraser.

E. For Evolution, when your mole goes through any changes in color, size, shape or any other trait.

If a skin growth displays any significant combination of these signs, particularly if it is changing at a noticeable rate, consultation with a dermatologist is indicated.