By Kathy Ferguson, RN, Parish Nurse
From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD’S name [is] to be praised. Psalms 113:3
The American Academy of Dermatology has designated May as Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. The great news is that skin cancer can be prevented, and it can almost always be cured when it’s found and treated early.
What can you do?
You should perform a skin cancer self-examination on a regular basis. Checking your skin means looking at all the spots on your body from the head/scalp to the toes/soles of feet. Use a full length mirror and a hand mirror to perform the examination. Look at every mole, freckle, and age spot to determine if there have been any changes or if something new has appeared. Ask someone for help when checking your skin, especially in hard to see places like the scalp and the entire back side of the body.
What does skin cancer look like?
Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells. It most often develops on areas of the skin exposed to the sun’s rays. Skin cancer affects people of all colors and races, although those with light skin who sunburn easily have a higher risk.
This is what you may see:
Actinic Keratoses (AK)
These dry, scaly patches or spots are precancerous growths.
- People who get AKs usually have fair skin.
- AKs usually form after many years on skin that gets lots of sun exposure, such as the head, neck, hands, and forearms.
- Because an AK can progress to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), treatment is important.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
This is the most common type of skin cancer.
- BCCs frequently develop in people who have fair skin, yet they can occur in people with darker skin.
- BCCs look like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump or a pinkish patch of skin.
- BCCs develop after years of frequent sun exposure or indoor tanning and are common on the head, neck, and arms, yet can form anywhere on the body, including the chest, abdomen, and legs.
- Early diagnosis and treatment for BCC is important. BCC can invade the surrounding tissue and grow into the nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer.
- People who have light skin are most likely to develop SCC, yet they can develop in darker-skinned people.
- SCC often looks like a red firm bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then re-opens.
- SCC tend to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back. Early diagnosis and treatment can stop SCC from spreading to other areas of the body.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
- Melanoma frequently develops in a mole or suddenly appears as a new dark spot on the skin.
- Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial.
- Knowing the ABCDE warning signs of melanoma can help you find an early melanoma.
- Asymmetry—one half is unlike the other half
- Border—an irregular, scalloped or a poorly defined border
- Color—varies from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red, or blue.
- Diameter—usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser)
- Evolving—looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color
If you notice any suspicious spots on your skin, or anything changing, itching or bleeding, see your primary healthcare provider or a dermatologist.
What can you do to prevent skin cancer?
- Head for the shade between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Protect yourself by wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to all exposed skin.
- Be cautious near water, snow and sand because they reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun.
- Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from tanning beds can also cause skin cancer.
Information/photos found in this article are from the American Academy of Dermatology. For more information on melanoma/skin cancer detection and prevention go to https://www.aad.org/public