Health Topic Categories

- Cancer -

April 28th, 2012

Protect Your Family from Skin Cancer

Each year over one million people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer. This number is equivalent to all other cancers combined.


Some skin cancers, known as malignant melanomas, have a high propensity to metastasize, that is, spread distantly, and are extremely dangerous. Others, such as squamous cell carcinomas, have a propensity to metastasize and are locally destructive. Still others, such as basal cell carcinomas, are rarely fatal, but, if neglected, can be quite disfiguring.


But, you can protect yourself from skin cancer.


First, avoid exposure to ultraviolet rays from both direct sunlight and tanning beds. It is best to seek shade during the day or schedule most outdoor activities before 10 AM or after 3 PM when the sun’s rays are diminished. Additionally, it is best to use lots of broad-spectrum SPF-30 or above sunscreen and to wear SPF-15 or higher lip balm. Finally, don’t forget a nice broad-brimmed hat, long sleeves, and UV-protective sunglasses.


Second, know if you are at increased risk for skin cancer and take additional precautions. Some risk factors are a history of cancerous or precancerous skin lesions, tendency to burn or freckle, increased cumulative sun exposure throughout life, and many episodes of sunburn during youth. Additional risk factors are a family history of skin cancer, non-healing wounds or burn injuries, radiation therapy, and immunosuppression from disease or immunosuppressant medications, such as those used to reduce transplant rejection.


Third, perform monthly skin exams before a full-length mirror assisted by a hand mirror for difficult areas. Note any new, recently changed, or suspicious-looking moles or lesions.


Fourth, learn the ABCDE mnemonic for melanoma.

  • “A” is for asymmetry, as melanomas seldom have right-left or top-bottom symmetry. That is, if an image of the lesion were folded in half from right to left or top to bottom, the margins would not coincide.
    “B” is for borders, as the borders of a melanoma are usually irregular, ragged, or notched.
    “C” is for color. There are often multiple shades of brown, black, or even purple in a single melanoma lesion.
    “D” is for diameter, as early melanomas often exceed 6 mm, that is, they are bigger than a typical pencil eraser.
    “E” is for evolution. The size, shape, or color of a melanoma often changes over time.


So remember to take these precautions and consult your dermatologist if you note the above danger signals.


Tom Falasca, DO

Scott Lim, DO

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