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How To Detect Skin Cancer Early: The Role of Regular Skin Checks

Skin cancer, the most common cancer in the United States, affects one in five Americans by age 70. But here’s the good news: catching it early is crucial, and regular skin checks are your best weapon for early detection of melanoma skin cancer (the deadliest form) and other nonmelanoma skin cancers.

With early detection, skin cancer is almost always curable. Left unchecked, however, cancerous skin lesions can spread and become life-threatening.

Why Are Skin Cancer Screenings Important?

Unlike some other cancers, skin cancer often develops in the outer layer of your skin, making it visible. Regular skin exams allow you to become familiar with your baseline so you can easily notice any new or changing moles, growths, or spots.

Early detection is key for both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers. When caught in the early stages, basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, and squamous cell carcinoma, another common type, are almost always curable with minimal scarring or treatment.

The American Cancer Society recommends regular skin exams as part of a comprehensive cancer screening strategy.

Who Should Get Regular Skin Cancer Screenings?

Everyone should get regular skin cancer screenings. Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate based on age, race, or ethnicity. While fair skin, a history of sunburn, and a family history of skin cancer are all risk factors, anyone can develop skin cancers, including melanoma.

Visit a skin cancer clinic Tweed Heads or nearby to find out how often you should get skin cancer screenings based on your individual risk factors.

How Often Should You Do Skin Checks?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Most doctors recommend checking your skin once a month. But remember, this is just a baseline. If you notice anything suspicious between checks, like new pigmented lesions, don’t wait! See your doctor right away.

What To Look For During a Skin Self-Exam

Here’s what to keep an eye on during your regular skin self-exam to detect potential skin cancers:

  • New moles: Any new mole, especially after adulthood, warrants a doctor’s visit.
  • Changing moles: Pay close attention to existing moles. The ‘ABCDE’ rule can help you remember the warning signs of melanoma:
    • Asymmetry: The mole’s half doesn’t match the other.
    • Border: The mole’s edges are irregular or blurred.
    • Color: The mole’s color is uneven, with shades of brown, black, red, blue, or white.
    • Diameter: The mole’s diameter is larger than the width of a pencil eraser (approx. six millimeters).
    • Evolving: The mole’s size, color, or shape is changing.
  • Unusual growths: Look for any new bumps, lumps, or rough patches of skin that could be cancerous skin lesions.
  • Sores that don’t heal: A sore that doesn’t heal within a few weeks could be a sign of skin cancer.
  • Bleeding: If a mole or growth starts to bleed, see a doctor right away.

Performing a Thorough Skin Self-Exam

Here’s how to perform a thorough body skin exam to check for skin cancers:

  1. Find a well-lit room with a full-length mirror. Have a hand mirror handy for those hard-to-see areas.
  2. Undress completely. Pay attention to all surfaces of your skin, including your scalp, genitals, and the soles of your feet.
  3. Use a systematic approach. Examine each area carefully, section by section.
  4. Pay close attention to your moles and birthmarks. Note any changes in size, shape, or color which could be warning signs of skin cancer.
  5. Don’t forget in between your toes, behind your ears, and your scalp. These areas are often overlooked during skin exams.

Tips for Making Skin Checks Easier

  • Schedule your skin check on the same day each month. This will help you get into a routine for early detection of skin cancers.
  • Take pictures of your moles and birthmarks to track any changes over time that might indicate skin cancer.
  • Ask a friend or family member to help you examine hard-to-see areas.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions. If you’re concerned about any skin changes, like new pigmented lesions or a growth that looks suspicious, speak up!

When To See a Doctor About Skin Cancer

If you notice any of the following during your skin check, see a doctor right away to rule out skin cancer:

  • A new mole, especially if it appears after adulthood
  • A mole that changes in size, shape, or color
  • An unusual growth on your skin
  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • Bleeding from a mole

Don’t Skip Your Annual Skin Exam by a Dermatologist

While self-exams are crucial for the early detection of skin cancer, they’re not a substitute for a professional skin exam by a dermatologist. During your annual skin exam, the dermatologist will meticulously examine your entire skin for any suspicious spots that might be cancerous.

In some cases, if a mole or growth appears suspicious, a skin biopsy might be necessary. A skin biopsy involves removing a small sample of skin for examination under a microscope. This helps determine if the cells are cancerous.

Early detection is key for treating all types of skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.

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Sun Protection: Your Best Defense Against Skin Cancer

The most important way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Here are some sun safety tips to minimize your risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma:

  • Seek shade, especially during peak sun hours (10 am to 4 pm). When shade isn’t available, use an umbrella for added protection.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing. Look for clothes with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of 50+. Tightly woven fabrics offer more protection than loose-fitting ones.
  • Apply sunscreen generously and liberally. Use a broad-spectrum (PA+) sunscreen with SPF 30 and up daily, even on cloudy days. Make sure to reapply every two hours or more often if you’re sweating or swimming. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears, lips, neck, and the tops of your feet.
  • Be aware of medications that increase sun sensitivity. Some medications can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about how certain medications might impact your risk of skin cancer.

In Closing

A simple mole check? Don’t wait! Schedule a skin exam today and make regular self-checks a habit. Your skin will thank you for it!