By Linda Fiske, RN
Did you know that May is Skin Cancer/Melanoma Awareness Month? The first Monday is known as National Skin Self-examination day, to both kick off the month and to remind us to check our own skin for skin cancer.
Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, with more than one million people diagnosed annually, accounting for about 50 percent of all types of diagnosed cancers combined. Yet, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer—more than 90 percent of skin cancers are caused by excessive sun exposure. As with many cancers, early detection is key.
A thorough skin check means examining the body, front and back, in the mirror, under both arms, in between toes and soles of the feet, behind ears and scalp. Each month, examine your skin to become familiar with the location, size and color of moles, freckles and other marks. Report any abnormal areas to your physician. Ask your physician to do a skin check as part of your annual physical.
Here are some of the things you can check for yourself: the ABCDEs of melanoma:
A: Asymmetry – The mole is not completely even in appearance.
B: Border – The margins should be even and smooth, without irregular or projecting edges.
C: Circumference – The mole should be round, without jagged or sharp edges
D: Diameter – The size should not be more than 6 millimeters across, the size of a pencil eraser.
E: Evolving – Any changes over time in size, shape, symptoms (itching, tenderness), surface (bleeding, scaling, inflammation), and shades of color should be observed.
Prevention tips to keep in mind and help limit your sun exposure include:
Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more to all exposed skin. “Broad-spectrum” provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UBV) rays. Reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when possible.
Seek shade when appropriate. Remember that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, seek shade.
Use extra caution near water, snow and sand because they reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chances of sunburn.
Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun.
Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. In the Skin Health Population Study, researchers found that persons using tanning beds often were three times more likely to develop melanoma than those who never tanned indoors.
If you want to look tan, consider using a self-tanning product or spray, but continue to use sunscreen when you are exposed to sunlight.
Linda Fiske, RN, MSN, OCN, is manager of Cancer Services at Exempla Lutheran Medical Center.