How to Detect Skin Cancer

Knowing how to detect skin cancer is a skill everyone should have. As careful as we women are about doing our own breast exams, we should be just as vigilant about looking out for signs of skin cancer.

Skin Cancer Facts:

  • Skin cancer is a serious disease that affects over two million people annually.
  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.
  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
  • One person dies of melanoma every hour.
  • One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
  • A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns at any age.

 

Skin cancer runs in my family. My father, his sister and their father have all had melanoma as well as other nonmelanoma skin cancers. Fortunately, when caught early enough, a simple outpatient procedure can remove the spots and no further treatment is necessary, and they were all lucky enough to fall within this category.

I’ve been having regular body checks for skin cancer since I was a teenager. I’ve had more “pre-cancerous” spots removed from my body than I care to count, so I’ve gotten pretty good at pin-pointing the suspicious ones. In fact, one time I found a spot that my primary care physician swore was fine. I pushed back and got a referral for a plastic surgeon, who reported that I had caught it just in time. It was one step away from becoming melanoma.

The moral of this story? Trust your instincts!

Here are some things you should know about skin cancer:

First of all, don’t put off seeing the doctor if you see something on your skin that concerns you.

The survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early, before the tumor has penetrated the skin, is about 99 percent. The survival rate falls to 15 percent for those with advanced disease.

Regular self exams are crucial to catching skin cancer early. Check yourself about once a month, and if you have some of the risk factors (family history or skin with lots of freckles and moles), make sure you get yearly checkups at your doctor’s office.

Follow your instincts. If something doesn’t look right to you, and your doctor says it’s okay, get a second opinion. If nothing else, you will gain peace of mind.

What to look for:

1. Change. Note change of any kind. If a mole changes shape, color, texture or size, you should get it checked out.

2. Irregularity. If it is an odd shape (most moles are round) or two-toned, it is worth getting checked out.

3. Size. If it is larger than 1/4-inch, you should have it checked out. But many of the moles they’ve taken from me were very tiny and dark black. So be watchful of those too.

4. Itching or bleeding. If a spot continues to itch, hurt, crust or bleed, you should get it checked out.

It doesn’t hurt to take pictures of suspicious-looking spots so you have a baseline and can see for sure if it is changing. You can also print out a body map and mark on it where you notice spots that are concerning.

Skin cancer is certainly a situation where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You are much better off preventing skin cancer in the first place than dealing with it after it has appeared. Be wise about sun exposure. Some sunlight is good for you, but burning is not. Protect yourself and your loved ones with regular skin checks, and see your doctor if you are unsure about anything.

I hope learning how to detect skin cancer in its early stages will help you prevent it from getting worse. What are some things you look out for? Let me know in the comments below.

All facts, stats and advice in this post are taken from skincancer.org. Personal experience is my own.

 
 

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