Public Health Corner: Skin cancer tips to identify & prevent

Most of us have heard about symptoms of skin cancer. Yet I found myself ignoring a small spot of red, blistery skin on the upper side of my nose. It happened to be where my sunglasses or cheaters sat so I assumed it to be a little pressure spot. I adjusted my glasses lower, applied various ointments. Weeks turned to months & I could not figure out why it just wouldn’t go away. Fortunately my dermatologist would not renew a topical med for another skin condition unless I came in. At the end of that visit, I thought I would point out the little spot. The dermatologist eyed it with an “Ahhh” of a seasoned eye & lighted magnifying glass. “I’m not thinking so much melanoma as squamous cell…” A biopsy & lab later revealed a 3rd type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma.

The Good News: Most skin cancers are very treatable when diagnosed & treated early. The lesson learned is if you have a suspicious spot of skin; make an appointment to check it out. It is true many spots & moles may be harmless, but only a professional can tell you if it should be biopsied & treated. You can start with your local provider or clinic. Your doctor may choose to shave or excise a suspicious spot for biopsy or may refer you to a dermatologist.

With so much information available on the internet, I found a great source in “The Skin Cancer Foundation”. The following information of stats, facts & tips are from their website.

Symptoms to look for: There are 3 main types of skin cancer so suspicious skin spots vary. Warning signs of a skin cancer can be any skin growth, sore or spot that change in size, thickness, color or texture. It may be a spot of translucent & blistery skin that does not hurt or itch. It may be a raised red bump, or a rough scaly patch that may itch, crust, scab or bleed. It may be an existing mole, birthmark or brown spot with changes it symmetry, color, or size, often but not always with irregular borders. It may be brand new spot that “looks like a mole”. It may occur anywhere on the body, even areas that are not exposed to the sun such as palms, feet or inside the mouth. If any of the above or if it’s a sore that doesn’t heal in 3 weeks or a new unusual spot or mole – pick up the phone, schedule an appointment to have you doctor or skin specialist check it out.

What you can do: According to Skin Cancer Foundation: “90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to (UV) radiation”. The vast majority of melanomas are caused by the sun. Sun damage is cumulative.” UV rays, including UV from tanning devices are included in a list of cancer-causing agents by a division of the World Health Organization. Only about 23% of lifetime exposure occurs by age 18 so it is never too late to take Preventive Action.

To lower your skin cancer risk follow these easy options

Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours.

Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.

Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.

Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection.

Avoid indoor tanning.

Skin cancer is common. It is the most common cancer of all cancer types & it is on the rise. According to the American Cancer Society anyone can get skin cancer not just those with fair skin. Use sunscreen and pay attention to skin changes.

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