Skin Cancer Prevention: Self-checks Are Key

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With skin cancer affecting one in five Americans, being proactive about prevention is important to your health. Dr. Katie Manno, dermatologist with Renown Dermatology, Laser and Skin Care, explains more.

With around 300 days of sunshine per year in the northern Nevada area, the end of summer doesn’t mean you can stop caring about your skin and the effects of the sun. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, more than 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. Dr. Katie Manno, dermatologist with Renown Dermatology, Laser and Skin Careexplains how self-checks are as essential to wearing sunscreen and limiting sun exposure.

How should someone examine their skin for moles?

I recommend practicing monthly head-to-toe self-examination of your skin, so you can find any new or changing moles or marks that might be cancerous or precancerous. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. It is also the easiest to cure, if diagnosed and treated early. Self-examination can alert you to changes in your skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer.

 

Some self-examination tips:

  • Make sure you have a bright light, full-length mirror, hand mirror and a blow-dryer.
  • Examine your face, especially your nose, lips, mouth and ears — front and back.
  • Thoroughly inspect your scalp, using a blow-dryer and mirror to expose each section to view. You might need to get a friend or family member to help.
  • Check your hands carefully: palms and backs, between the fingers and under the fingernails. Continue up the wrists to examine both the front and back of your forearms.
  • Standing in front of the full-length mirror, begin at the elbows and scan all sides of your upper arms. Don’t forget the underarms.
  • Next, focus on the neck, chest and torso. Women should lift breasts to view the undersides.
  • With your back to the full-length mirror, use the hand mirror to inspect the back of your neck, shoulders, upper back and any part of the back of your upper arms you didn’t already check.
  • Scan your lower back, buttocks and backs of both legs.
  • Check the front and sides of both legs, thigh to shin, ankles, tops of feet, between toes and under toenails. Examine soles of feet and heels.

What should someone look for when performing this skin check?

To start, take note of any new moles or growths, and any existing growths that begin to grow or change significantly in any other way.  Lesions that change, itch, bleed, or don’t heal are also alarm signals. You can use A-B-C-D-E to recognize possible signs of melanoma.

  • Asymmetry: A benign mole is symmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle, the two sides will match. Asymmetry is a warning sign of melanoma.
  • Border: A benign mole has smooth, even borders, unlike melanomas. The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven.
  • Color: Most benign moles are all one color — often a single shade of brown. Having a variety of colors, such as shades of brown, tan or black, or even red, white or blue are reasons to make an appointment with your care provider.
  • Diameter: Benign moles usually have a smaller diameter than malignant ones. Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the eraser on your pencil tip (¼ inch or 6 milometers).
  • Evolving: Benign moles look the same over time. Be on the alert when a mole starts to evolve or change in any way.

How do you know it’s time to see a dermatologist?

You should have an annual skin exam, just like you see your primary care provider yearly for a check-up. Keep in mind that moles are common. Almost every adult has a few of them and those with light skin often have more moles. Most moles appear on the skin during childhood and adolescence and will grow as the child grows.

Some moles will darken, and others will lighten. These changes are expected and seldom a sign of melanoma, the most-serious skin cancer. However for adults, new moles and changes to existing moles can be a sign of melanoma.

Bottom line: Caught early, melanoma is highly treatable. Beyond your yearly exam, if you see any new moles or changes to existing moles, schedule an appointment with your care provider. To schedule an appointment visit renown.org/dermatology or call 775-982-8255.

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