Skin Cancer Awareness Month
May is skin cancer awareness month – have you ever given much thought about skin cancer? If you haven’t been affected by skin cancer yet, chances are you will know someone who will be. Twenty percent of Americans will get skin cancer during their lifetime. Luckily most skin cancers grow slowly, but some are deadly. And it doesn’t just impact the elderly…the most common cancer in young adults 20-30 years of age is melanoma. My youngest skin cancer patient is 21 years old. The most common cancer out of all cancers in the United States regardless of age is basal cell carcinoma. So in case you didn’t get the memo – skin cancer is a big deal!
In order of frequency, basal cell carcinoma is obviously the most common type of skin cancer diagnosed, but it is followed by squamous cell carcinoma, and then followed by melanoma. Skin cancer can develop in anyone, but some individuals may be at higher risk. These risk factors include a history of excessive sun exposure or indoor tanning, light featured eyes or skin, family or personal history of skin cancer, or someone having greater than fifty moles. So I know you’re imagining that fair, red headed person is the ideal person to get skin cancer. Yes, that might be true; however, in my practice, I see plenty of olive toned, Italian patients with skin cancer. I also have had several African American patients with melanoma that arose on their foot or within their nail. No one is off limits, therefore everyone should be informed and get a baseline skin screening.
If you have never had a baseline skin exam, it is not scary. Call your local board certified dermatologist and make an appointment for an initial skin screening. A skin exam will only a few minutes of your time. Your dermatologist will be able to give you a recommendation on how often a skin exam is needed in the future. For an example, my patients with a recent history of skin cancer are seen in my office every six months for a screening. A young adult with several atypical moles is seen on a yearly basis. Another young person without any risk factors I might recommend to come in for a skin exam every few years. Everyone is different, so discuss with your dermatologist what they individually recommend for you.
There are some things that I tell people to keep a lookout for; if you see anything persistently bleeding or non-healing, pimples or sores that don’t go away, anything that is changing or looks like an “ugly duckling” compared to the rest of your spots on the skin, contact your dermatologist for a spot check appointment. It takes me seconds to know if something is suspicious or benign. You should always have peace of mind!
I want to point out that just because you don’t think you have anything on your skin that is a problem doesn’t mean you should not get checked. Basal cell carcinomas often look like nothing when small. Sometimes squamous cell carcinoma even mimics rash. Last week I participated in a local community skin cancer screening and found a melanoma on a man’s back that he was completely unaware was a problem. If caught early, all types of skin cancer can be easily treated with simple, in-office procedures.
Please take action this month. Make that skin screening appointment with your board certified dermatologist. The skin is your largest organ – make sure to give it the attention it deserves!