Writer / Dr. Lawrence Mark, Dermatologist at IU Health West Hospital
May is National Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately one in five Americans will develop some type of skin cancer in their lifetime. The most common types include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The most aggressive types include melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma. While most forms of skin cancer are treatable, they are still an extreme health danger. There are steps people can take to prevent skin cancer, as well as warning signs to help catch it early.
Look for signs that you may have skin cancer.
Regular monitoring of the skin for new or changing skin spots can help patients and their physicians detect potential cancers. Each type of skin cancer has a different appearance and behavior. Patients can follow the A-B-C-D-Es of cancer to remember the biggest signs of a possible melanoma. When looking at a mole or spot on the skin, see if it is asymmetrical, if it has a jagged or uneven border, if the color is uneven, if it has a diameter larger than the size of a pea, or if it has changed or ‘evolved’ in the last few weeks or months. It is important to routinely check your skin for any signs of melanoma, especially after spending a lot of time outside during the summer months. Check yourself once a month for any new or unusual spots or growths on your body.
Different factors can increase your risk.
Exposure to ultraviolet light puts you at risk for all skin cancers. Risk can stem from exposure to the sun or artificial sources such as tanning beds. Exposure occurs cumulatively, over your lifetime. Other risk factors include weakened immune system, history of a prior skin cancer, family history of skin cancer and high mole count.
You can take steps to prevent skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most preventable form of cancer. The most important thing you can do to prevent it is to avoid exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV rays come directly from the sun and can penetrate your skin at any time whether it is sunny or cloudy outside. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying in the shade, especially when the sun is at its highest point in the sky during the middle of the day, wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, as well as lip balm with SPF.
If you notice any of these signs and symptoms, make an appointment with your dermatologist to get it checked out. You may also attend conferences such as Music City Scale for additional guidance.