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Signs, Risk Factors, Prevention and Screenings

Writer / Dr. Robert Huff, Dermatologist at IU Health West Hospital
Photography Provided

Along with the warm weather, summertime brings shorts, swimwear and more time spent outside under the sun. While the sun feels nice on our skin, every time we are in the sun, our skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, damaging our skin cells. Dr. Robert Huff, dermatologist at IU Health West Hospital, shares signs and risks of skin cancer, and tips for prevention.

Signs of Skin Cancer

Oftentimes skin cancer develops on areas frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, chest, arms and legs. However, skin cancer can also develop in areas that rarely see the sun, such as the palms.

Remember the ABCDE rule: Asymmetry (one half of the mole doesn’t match the other), Border irregularity, Color that is not uniform, Diameter greater than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser), and Evolving size, shape or color.

Some skin cancers are more common than others. Basal cell carcinoma is recognizable by a waxy bump, or a bleeding or scabbing sore that heals and returns. Squamous cell carcinoma is often noticed as a scaly or crusty red patch, and a firm red nodule. Melanoma, which is often the most serious, is recognizable by changes in size or color of a mole, or large brown spots with dark specks and an unusual border.

Risks of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer can happen to anyone, but certain characteristics may put a person at a greater risk, such as if your skin easily burns, if you have freckles, if you have blonde or red hair, or if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer.

Prevention

Your risk for skin cancer lowers if you’re proactive about prevention:

  • Limit sun exposure, especially during the peak hours of 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
  • Avoid indoor tanning. Tanning beds expose your body to 12 times more UV radiation.
  • Use sunscreen and reapply. Even on cloudy days, UV rays still penetrate the clouds. Always use a water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses. This will keep the sun off your face and help prevent sun damage to your eyes.
  • Schedule a skin cancer screening. Visiting your primary care doctor or dermatologist once per year not only helps to prevent skin cancer, but also allows for early detection and treatment. It’s also beneficial to screen yourself at home and keep an eye on freckles or moles that are unusual.

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